Tahir Ahmed Naseem, 47, died Wednesday in the northwestern city of Peshawar after a member of the public entered the courtroom and opened fire on the judge, according to officials. His attacker was arrested at the scene.
Naseem was tried for blasphemy after being accused of being a prophet, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment under the Pakistan Penal Code.
A statement from the US State Department said officials were “shocked, saddened and outraged” by Naseem’s death. The statement said Nasiem was “lured to Pakistan from his home in Illinois by people who then used Pakistani blasphemy laws to lure him.” He did not offer more details. Naseem received consular assistance from his arrest in 201
According to a Peshawar police spokesman, the alleged killer told Naseem that he was an “enemy of religion” and deserved to be killed before he opened fire.
Police are investigating how the suspect managed to enter the courtroom with a loaded weapon. The guards are usually located outside the court buildings, and the police guard separate courtrooms.
Weapons are difficult to obtain in Pakistan – civilians cannot buy or carry weapons without a valid license. Members of the community are usually not allowed in local courtrooms, such as the one where Naseem was shot.
Blasphemy linked violence
The case has reiterated tensions over the country’s strict blasphemy laws, which have linked to a number of acts of violence, including at least one fatal shooting in recent years.
International human rights groups have widely condemned the law, which critics say is used disproportionately against minority religious groups and targeting journalists who criticize the Pakistani religious institution.
There are also fears that hardline Islamist groups may hail Naseim’s attacker as a hero, as they have done in the past to murderers of people accused of blasphemy.
His killer, Mumtaz Kadri, immediately turned himself in to police and was later executed. But for many staunch Islamists, Kadri is a martyr, and his grave has become a sanctuary for those who support Asia Bibi’s death sentence.
At this time Rabia Mehmud, a former Amnesty International researcher, said Bibi’s case had become so divisive because the Pakistani government had failed to take measures to curb the “hate and violence campaign sparked by some groups in the country”.