Pakistani Woman Sentenced to Death for Sending 'Blasphemous' WhatsApp and Facebook Messages

Ateeq denied all the charges and said she believed her accuser intentionally lured her into a religious discussion to take revenge after she refused to be friendly with him.

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A 26-year-old Pakistani woman has been sentenced to death in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, after she was found guilty of sending "blasphemous" messages over WhatsApp and Facebook. Aneeqa Ateeq denied all charges but was found guilty on Wednesday and sentenced to 20 years in prison and death by hanging, according to the Guardian.

Ateeq claimed that she was set up and lured into a conversation about religion by the person who reported her to the police. However, that didn't help her escape the death penalty. Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, and laws prohibiting it can carry a potential death sentence, although it has never been enforced for the crime.

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According to the court ruling, Ateeq was found guilty of mocking Islamic beliefs after she sent 'blasphemous' WhatsApp messages which had caricatures of Prophet Mohammed. She will now spend 20 years in jail before being hanged to death.

According to the chargesheet, Ateeq met her accuser, Hassnat Farooq, a fellow Pakistani, online in 2019 through a mobile gaming app and the pair began corresponding over WhatsApp.

Later, Farook complained to police accusing Ateeq of sending blasphemous caricatures of holy prophets on WhatsApp. He said that she sent other, unspecified blasphemous material on Facebook to other accounts, according to The Guardian.

According to the chargesheet, by sending those messages, she "deliberately and intentionally defiled sacred righteous personalities and insulted the religious beliefs of Muslims."

Islam forbids caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. During her trial, Ateeq denied all the charges and said that she believed Farooq intentionally lured her into a religious discussion to take revenge after she refused to be friendly with him on WhatsApp.

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Ateeq's lawyer Syeda Rashida Zainab reportedly said: "I can't comment on the judgment as the issue is very sensitive." Pakistan regularly issues death sentences for things that it feels hurts Islamic sentiments or are blasphemous.

However, executions are not carried out and the accused mostly spend their lives in jail. Moreover, the accused are often killed by vigilantes before courts come to a verdict, according to The Guardian.

Also, judges, fearful of the implications, rarely acquit the accused and are often pressured into reaching guilty verdicts. According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, about 80 people in Pakistan are in prison for blasphemy, with at least half sentenced to death, though there have been no executions.

Pakistan has recently asked Facebook and Twitter to help identify its citizens suspected of blasphemy so it can prosecute them or pursue their extradition.

In 2016, Pakistan passed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act. It allows authorities to punish internet and social media users for infractions made online, including acts of blasphemy.

In 2017, Taimoor Raza was the first person sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy on Facebook, one of the first steps towards an intensified crackdown on dissent on social media after the passing of cyber laws.

That said, according to Amnesty International, blasphemy cases are mostly based on false evidence, and accusers often abuse laws for financial gain or to settle personal rivalries or vendettas.

This article was first published on January 21, 2022
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