26-Year-Old Woman Sentenced to Death Over WhatsApp Messages

The Pakistani woman told the court she believes she was entrapped into a religious discussion on WhatsApp after rejecting a man’s advances.
Rimal Farrukh
Islamabad, PK
blasphemy, Pakistan, whatsapp, death sentence
Aneeqa Ateeq was sentenced to death in Rawalpindi city on Jan. 19 after she shared

“blasphemous”content on WhatsApp. Photo used for illustrative purposes only. Photo: Olena Ruban, Getty Images 

A woman in Rawalpindi, Pakistan was sentenced to death over allegedly blasphemous messages and images retrieved from her WhatsApp conversations with a man whose unwanted advances she earlier rejected.

The accused, 26-year-old Aneeqa Ateeq, was arrested in May 2020 and charged with sharing images and a status deemed disrespectful to the Prophet Muhammad and one of his wives. She was sentenced on Jan. 19. 


“The blasphemous material, which was shared/installed by the female accused on her status, 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 statement. 

The court ordered that Ateeq be “hanged by her neck till she is dead.” In addition to the death sentence, Ateeq has been given an additional 20 year jail sentence and a fine of more than Rs. 150,000 ($852). The sentence is subject to confirmation by the Lahore high court, to which the accused can appeal the verdict.

Ateeq has denied the charges of blasphemy against her. In a court statement, Ateeq said that her accuser Hasnat Farooq had deliberately roped her into a religious debate after she refused “to be friendly” with him. Ateeq met Farooq in 2019 on the online gaming app PUBG, after which the two started communicating over WhatsApp.

“I feel that he intentionally dragged into this topic for revenge, that’s why he registered a case against me, and during [our WhatsApp] chat he collected everything that went against me,” Ateeq said in the statement.

Farooq claims Ateeq had shared the allegedly blasphemous material as a WhatsApp status and refused to delete it even after he warned her that it was offensive.

Under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, insults to the Prophet Muhammad are given the death sentence. Blasphemy is a highly contentious subject in the country, where even unproven allegations of blasphemy have led to extrajudicial killings, mob violence and wide-scale demonstrations. Human rights groups have criticised the law, saying it could be weaponized in personal vendettas or to persecute the country’s religious minorities.  


Although not a religious minority, Ateeq represents a rising trend in Pakistan of women getting blackmailed or coerced by men online to get into relationships. Digital rights activist Usama Khilji says the combined use of online coercion with blasphemy allegations can set a new and dangerous precedent for cyber harassment in Pakistan. 

“Activists have been warning of the blasphemy law being used to settle personal scores. The blasphemy law is a weapon used by those who wield power to further render others powerless, Khilji said. “At the intersection of power, religion and gender are combined to punish a woman for refusing to give in to the entitlement of a man and hence this punishment.” 

The consequences can be lethal. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says around 80 people are imprisoned in Pakistan under blasphemy charges, and that many of them are facing the death penalty. Although no one has been executed in the country over blasphemy charges so far, more than 75 people have been killed in mob attacks over blasphemy allegations since 1990. Last December, a Sri Lankan factory manager was lynched and his body set on fire in the city of Sialkot, after rumors spread that he had torn up stickers bearing the name of the Prophet Muhammad. 


Besides those accused of blasphemy themselves, victims of mob violence have included members of their families, their lawyers and, in one instance, a judge. 

“The law is clear. If blasphemy is proven, there is the death penalty and that’s that. That is if the case makes it to court. We have seen unfortunate examples where those who were accused of blasphemy were lynched or burnt alive before they even had a chance to defend themselves,” a legal expert in Islamabad told VICE World News under the condition of anonymity. Even speaking out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws carries risks to one’s safety.

According to lawyer Saif-ul-Malook, who represented the well-known blasphemy case of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, the verdict in Ateeq’s case raises questions on the sharing of allegedly blasphemous content over social media.

“This case has not been handled properly. Can a printed message that has been reproduced amount to blasphemy?” Malook told VICE World News. 

Malook notes that the verdict did not take into account Ateeq’s motives and whether she was even aware that the content she shared could be interpreted as blasphemous – something other blasphemy prosecutions tend to overlook.

“What isn’t clear in the judgement, and what the prosecution should have proven, was whether the accused was aware that the material distributed was blasphemous,” Malook said. Generally, if someone doesn’t know what the material is, shouldn’t they be granted the benefit of the doubt?”

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