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14 campaign groups ask Pakistan to stop its censorship of ‘blasphemous’ Twitter content

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is one of 14 organisations which have today written to the Permanent Representative to the United Nations for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan requesting that Pakistan cease its censorship of Twitter content and users which have been deemed ‘blasphemous’ by the government. This campaign was spearheaded by the Ex-Muslims of North America. The BHA has also taken this opportunity to highlight the importance of freedom of thought and freedom of belief around the world, and to call for greater international pressure to root out the persecution and oppression of non-religious people and individuals from minority religions around the world.

Pakistan, as a member of the United Nations and as a signatory of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is obliged to guarantee the basic right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief, as well as the right to change professed religion or belief at any time, and the right to manifest belief publicly, to all of its citizens.

Furthermore, Pakistan as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) ought to be mindful of a resolution which the UNHRC passed in 2012 which states that  ‘the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.’

The campaigners have also sought to encourage Twitter to change its policy so as not to be compliant with Pakistan’s requests to block ‘blasphemous’ content. The organisations have promoted the Twitter hashtag #TwitterTheocracy on 10 June, and have distributed a petition hosted by thepetitionsite.com which aims to reach 1,000 signatures.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘The right to free expression is a universal human right, not solely a value practised in liberal countries, and it is therefore quite wrong for Pakistan to block its citizens’ access to information on the nebulous grounds of what it defines as “blasphemy”. While Pakistan has blasphemy enshrined in its law and attached to a penalty of death, Twitter should also hold itself out to higher standards and maintain its support for human dignity and freedom of expression for all people, not just those in liberal countries. Politicians in this country, as well as our representatives in the European Parliament and United Nations, ought to do more to compel countries such as Pakistan, including the full 19 countries in which apostasy is punishable by law, to respect freedom of thought and freedom of belief in all its manifestations, including on social media.’

Notes

For further information or comment, contact BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

About the British Humanist Association

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

About the BHA’s work on freedom of thought and freedom of belief

The BHA has long supported freedom of belief internationally, and is a stakeholder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The APPG launched its new website, Freedom Declared, on Monday 9 June. In addition to its representation as a member of International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), which sends a delegation to the United Nations and to the Council of Europe, the BHA sends its own delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council to champion the cause of freedom of thought and freedom of belief.

For the 2014 IHEU World Humanist Congress, which the BHA is hosting in Oxford in August 2014, will take as its theme ‘Freedom of thought and expression’ and will unite close to a thousand delegates from almost fifty countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Uganda and other places where it is not easy to openly non-religious.

IHEU also publishes its in-depth Freedom of Thought Report each year on 10 December, which is International Human Rights Day. IHEU’s 2013 report notes that Pakistan, though not a country with a formal death penalty for apostasy, sets a very low bar for the crime of ‘blasphemy’ and in effect uses this to punish atheists with death.

Full list of signatories:

American Atheists
American Humanist Association
Atheist Alliance International
British Humanist Association
Camp Quest
Center for Inquiry
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Council for Secular Humanism
Ex-Muslims of North America
International Humanist and Ethical Union
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
Secular Coalition for America
Secular Student Alliance
Society for Humanistic Judaism

Read the letter to the Ambassador: www.centerforinquiry.net/docs/opp/NGOs_Letter_Pakistan.pdf

Read the Ex-Muslims of North America’s press release: www.exmna.org/campaign-twitter-theocracy-june-10

Sign the petition to Twitter: www.thepetitionsite.com/222/488/572/stand-up-against-twittertheocracy-and-blasphemy-laws

Read the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s 2013 Freedom of Thought report: freethoughtreport.com/download-the-report

Read the BHA Head of Delegation’s account of the BHA’s work at the UNHRC: humanistlife.org.uk/2014/03/31/the-british-humanist-association-at-the-united-nations

Visit Freedom Declared, the new website for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion and Belief: freedomdeclared.org

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