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Humanists warn UN of the power of blasphemy laws

Humanists have today warned the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in Geneva that authoritarian states across the world are increasingly using blasphemy laws to assert greater control over the rights of citizens.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) representative to the Council, Amelia Cooper, highlighted the invocation of ‘blasphemy’ in the recent incarceration of bloggers in Saudia Arabia, Tunisia, Bangladesh and Mauritania, as well as the suppression of tweets and user accounts in Pakistan, which were later unblocked by Twitter following the online #TwitterTheocracy campaign. Ms Cooper demonstrated the inadequate access to justice for those accused of blasphemy, citing the arbitrary imprisonment of a Saudi lawyer and the extra-judicial murder of Pakistani lawyer Rashid Rehman as part of a broader trend of the intimidation of those working on blasphemy cases.

In her speech to the Council, Ms Cooper argued that ‘the recourse to justice for those accused of blasphemy is, at best, skewed; at worst, non-existent’, adding that ‘arbitrary arrests, mob violence and extra-judicial killings are common consequences of blasphemy allegations’. She continued that ‘blasphemy laws undermine the principles of this Council and are conducive towards a myriad of human rights abuses, both state-sanctioned and through vigilantism’.

The BHA has urged the Council to curb these blatant human rights abuses with immediate effect, calling for repressive states which use blasphemy laws to limit freedom of expression to be swiftly held to account.


For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs, at or on 0773 843 5059.

Read the BHA intervention:

Read also the BHA’s intervention last week on the same topic:

The UN Human Rights Council:

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.

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