Pakistan Sentences Woman to Death for Alleged Muhammad Cartoon on Whatsapp

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Arif Ali/AFP via Getty Images

A trial court in northern Pakistan’s Rawalpindi city sentenced a 26-year-old Muslim woman to death on Wednesday for blasphemy against Islam after finding her guilty of “sharing images deemed to be insulting to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and one of his wives” via the instant messaging application WhatsApp, Al Jazeera reported on Thursday.

“The blasphemous material which was shared/installed by the female accused on her status [on WhatsApp messaging platform] and the messages as well as caricatures which were sent to the complainant are totally unbearable and not tolerable for a Muslim,” Judge Adnan Mushtaq wrote in his verdict in the case on January 20.

Rawalpindi’s Federal Investi­gation Agency (FIA) first filed charges including blasphemy against Aneeqa Ateeq in May 2020 based on the complaint of a man named Hasnat Farooq. Ateeq pled not guilty to the charges.

Farooq met Ateeq online while participating in a multiplayer video game popular in Pakistan and continued to communicate with her afterward via WhatsApp. Ateeq wrote in an evidentiary statement to Rawalpindi’s trial court that Farooq “deliberately pulled her into a religious discussion to frame her after she refused ‘to be friendly’ towards him,” Al Jazeera relayed on Thursday.

“So I feel that he intentionally dragged into this topic for revenge, that’s why he got registered [sic] a case against me and during [WhatsApp] chat he collected everything that went against me,” Ateeq alleged.

“Farooq contends the accused shared the allegedly blasphemous material as a WhatsApp status and refused to delete it when he confronted her on that messaging platform,” according to Al Jazeera.

Judge Adnan Mushtaq issued Ateeq a death sentence on Wednesday according to “Section 295-C [blasphemy]” of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPP), the Karachi-based newspaper Dawn reported on January 20. The Rawalpindi trial court additionally awarded Ateeq a 10-year prison sentence and a $283 fine according to “Section 295-A [insulting religious belief]” of the national penal code.

Judge Mushtaq further convicted Ateeq of “posing as [a] Muslim under Section 298 of the PPC and awarded [her a] three years sentence with Rs50,000 [$283] fine,” Dawn reported. Ateeq received a separate seven-year prison sentence and another $283 fine on Wednesday for violating Section 11 of Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), which pertains to “hate speech.”

“[W]hoever prepares or disseminates information, through any information system or device, that advances or is likely to advance interfaith, sectarian or racial hatred, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or with fine or with both,” Dawn wrote of PECA Section 11.

Islam is Pakistan’s official state religion. Nearly 97 percent of people in Pakistan identify as Muslim according to the country’s latest available census data, released in 2017. Islam pervades practically all aspects of Pakistani daily life. The religion’s supremacy over Pakistani culture is reflected by the nation’s penal code, which assigns a maximum penalty of death for anyone found guilty of insulting Muhammad. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws further empower state officials to imprison people for insulting Islam, the Quran (Islam’s holy text), or any figure deemed holy by the religion.

Pakistan’s courts have yet to carry out capital punishment for people convicted of insulting Muhammad, though Ateeq’s extreme sentence on January 20 joins a growing list of blasphemy-related death sentences meted out by the Pakistani justice system over the past year and a half. Vigilante retribution often reaches blasphemy suspects in Pakistan before they may be formally charged with the crime.

“Since 1990, at least 80 people have been killed in connection with blasphemy allegations,” Al Jazeera reported on January 20, citing its own independent tally.

“Those killed include people accused of blasphemy, their family members, their lawyers and at least one judge,” according to Al Jazeera’s data.

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