A 26-year-old Muslim woman in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, was sentenced to death over what authorities said were blasphemous messages she sent on WhatsApp.
Aneeqa Ateeq denied all charges but was found guilty on Wednesday and sentenced to 20 years in prison and death by hanging, The Guardian reported.
Her accuser was identified by local paper The Nation as Hassnat Farooq. He said Ateeq sent blasphemous caricatures of holy prophets on WhatsApp and sent other, unspecified blasphemous material on Facebook to other accounts, as per The Guardian, citing her charge sheet.
Islam forbids caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Guardian reported that the pair met on a mobile gaming app in 2019 and chatted over WhatsApp.
During the trial, Ateeq said she believed Farooq intentionally goaded her into a religious discussion to take revenge for her not wanting to be friendly to him on WhatsApp.
On Wednesday, Judge Adnan Mushtaq found Ateeq guilty of deliberately intending to outrage religious feelings and using derogatory remarks toward “holy personages,” according to a copy of a sentence warrant tweeted by Naila Inayat, a correspondent with Associated Reporters Abroad.
Ateeq was also found guilty of using derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, which was the charge that resulted in her death sentence.
The warrant notes that her death penalty is still subject to the confirmation of the High Court in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province, where Rawalpindi is located.
Pakistan, an Islamic state, enforces strict blasphemy laws that can slap guilty offenders with life in prison or the death penalty. According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, these harsh sentences are sometimes issued against practising Muslims, as Ateeq says she is, but are more often levied against Pakistani Christians and minorities.
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.
According to Amnesty International, blasphemy cases are frequently based on false evidence, and accusers often abuse laws for financial gain or to settle personal rivalries or vendettas.
Blasphemy charges are also notoriously dangerous for the accused. Though Pakistan hasn’t executed anyone for blasphemy yet and instead leaves offenders in prison for life, dozens of the accused have been killed by vigilante mobs.
In December, for example, a Sri Lankan factory manager was lynched and set on fire near Islamabad after being charged with blasphemy. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called the incident “a day of shame” for the nation.
The Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency and the Pakistani Cyber Crime Wing, which received the blasphemy complaints regarding Aneeqa Ateeq, did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
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