Terror in court

August 9, 2020

After a teenager commits murder in a courtroom during the hearing of a blaphemy case, images and videos on social media showing lawyers and police officers embracing him call into question the role played by guardians of the law

The courtroom.

As Faisal alias Khalid, the alleged killer of blasphemy accused Pakistani-American Tahir Ahmad Naseem, approached the courtroom for a hearing, a couple of lawyers excitedly headed towards him. Video clips and photos of this interaction, now available on social media, show lawyers hugging and kissing the killer encircled by a dozen policemen. There is no resistance from the police. A couple of days later, selfies of smiling police guards with the alleged killer in a police van also emerged on social media, highlighting how sections of law enforcement agencies and legal fraternity treat a heinous crime committed in the name of religion.

On July 29, Khalid, a teenager, had shot dead a senior citizen in the courtroom in broad daylight during the hearing of a blasphemy case. Naseem, also an American citizen with ties previously to Ahmadi faith, was accused of blasphemy in April 2018 after a student at an Islamic seminary in Islamabad met the accused in Peshawar. According to the student, the accused claimed that he was “a prophet and a messiah” and that God had bestowed him with spiritual powers to guide people.

“I came to know him on Facebook. He was making claims of prophethood and invited me for a debate. We fixed the time outside a shopping mall in Peshawar and during the meeting he repeated his claims,” says Awais Malik, the seminary student who lodged a blasphemy case against the Naseem.

Among other offences, Naseem was charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code which carries death penalty as the only sentence. The complainant, Malik, says he has been pursuing the case for two years. According to him, Naseem has been repeating his alleged blasphemous claims before the judge during the hearings of the case. The killer, according to him, had also been in touch with the accused, and had entered into a debate with him.

Some months after the case was lodged against Naseem, Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Seth dismissed his bail application, holding that the accusation was of “serious in nature, leaving no room for leniency.”

The court order mentioned that the articles recovered from of the accused (USB/computer) had been analysed/examined and subjected to forensic tools and tests for schizophrenia.

The report of the examiner is in the affirmative. Moreover, some video clips, circulating on social media also show that the accused had a mental disability. He claimed to be “the spiritual son of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of Ahmadi faith”. The accused, Naseem, said he was “also a messenger like Mirza Ahmad”. However, Jamaat Ahmadiyya Pakistan, disowned Naseem saying he was “an Ahmadi long ago” and had “left the Jamaat after his new claims”.

Such behaviour by some in the legal community in cases of blasphemy and relating to those charged under anti-Ahmadi laws appears to be systematic. Such sections of the community appear to endorse the actions of those who take law into their hands and commit extra-judicial killings on religious grounds. It appears that such tacit support of the legal community and law enforcement agencies encourages killers.

According to a media report there have been more than 70 extra judicial killings in blasphemy cases.

“If you continue to delay blasphemy cases proceedings and acquit[ting] the accused, then people would take law into their hands because being Muslims they cannot compromise on the dignity of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him),” a social media message widely circulated after the killing of Naseem read.

According to a media report there have been more than 70 extra-judicial killings in blasphemy cases. The most prominent conviction and sentence in this regard was in the Salmaan Taseer case. His guard, who shot the late governor for alleged blasphemy, was executed in February 2016.

In May 2014, in Sharaqpur, a town close to Lahore, a teenager walked into the police station at night; and according to reports, managed to get a police uniform and a pistol from a policeman, shot dead a 65-year-old Ahmadi accused of blasphemy in the lock-up. He was charged with terrorism; but later, a group of lawyers who take on cases against those accused of blasphemy, managed to argue its removal in the Lahore High Court. The case is still pending. The same year, unidentified men riding a motorcycle shot dead Advocate Rashid Rehman, an office-bearer of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Multan, who was defending a blasphemy-accused. He had earlier been warned not to defend the accused. The accused in the blasphemy case has since been convicted and awarded death sentence but nobody has so far been arrested for the murder of the advocate.

A student in Bahawalpur who stabbed and killed an associate professor, Khalid Hameed, for alleged anti-Islamic views in March 2019, has not been indicted so far. “What kind of system do we have where the killer publicly confessed his crime but the case is moving so slowly? Sometimes, we feel sorry for being Pakistani… the state plays no role in helping one get justice,” a relative of the teacher says.

The US Department of State, has expressed shock over the extra-judicial killing of Naseem, an American citizen, and urged Pakistan to “take immediate action and pursue reforms that will prevent such a shameful tragedy from happening again.”

“Naseem had been lured to Pakistan from his home in Illinois by individuals who then used Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to entrap him. The US Government has been providing consular assistance to Naseem and his family since his detention in 2018 and has called the attention of senior Pakistani officials to his case to prevent the type of shameful tragedy that eventually occurred. We urge Pakistan to immediately reform its often-abused blasphemy laws and its court system, which allow such abuses to occur, and to ensure that the suspect is prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” the State Department’s statement reads.

The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at vaqargillani@gmail.com

Terror in court