A new campaign aiming to bring an end to blasphemy laws around the world launches today.
The ‘End Blasphemy Laws’ campaign, led jointly by the European Humanist Federation (EHF) and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), and supported by the British Humanist Association (BHA), will put pressure on states to repeal laws which restrict or punish speech which is deemed to commit ‘blasphemy’ or ‘religious insult’.
Blasphemy laws were repealed in England and Wales in 2008 following years of campaigning from the BHA and other organisations. However, many countries, including an alarming number of EU member states, continue to silence and punish criticism of religion through blasphemy laws. IHEU’s 2014 Freedom of Thought Report found that 55 countries had criminal laws restricting blasphemy. In 39 countries, it is an imprisonable offence. In six countries, it has the death penalty.
As part of the campaign, the BHA will be making special efforts to highlight this issue with politicians in London and Brussels, as well as through its delegations to the UN and the Council of Europe.
While the EU continues to speak out strongly against blasphemy laws abroad, such as the law in Pakistan which in 2010 sentenced to death a Christian woman for allegedly insulting Muhammad, its efforts to promote tolerance and freedom of speech abroad have been hamstrung by perceptions of hypocrisy. Blasphemy laws still exist in an alarming number of EU countries, including Greece, Poland, and Germany, as well as in the Russian Federation.
And by no means are these laws simply harmless, historical relics. They remain a very real source of attacks on the right to freedom of speech and expression. In Greece, for example, satirical blogger Filippos Loizos was last year handed a ten-month suspended prison sentence for comments he made on Facebook poking fun at a monk. As highlighted by the recent case of Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, many states use blasphemy laws as an effective tool to outlaw criticism of the government.
Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive and First Vice President of IHEU, commented ‘For too long, blasphemy laws have been used by states to silence their critics and to persecute non-believers and members of religious minorities. They also stifle free expression and contribute to a repressive climate for minorities of all backgrounds. We must campaign for the removal of blasphemy laws to ensure that the rights of religious minorities and non-believers are upheld.’
Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns and EHF Vice Chair, stressed ‘Only by abolishing its own blasphemy laws can the EU claim moral authority to challenge gross human rights abuses happening in the name of blasphemy all over the world. To be an effective champion of human rights outside its territories, the EU must first be true to its own values of secularism, democracy, and freedom of expression.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0773 843 5059.
Visit the End Blasphemy Laws campaign site: http://end-blasphemy-laws.org
Download the Freedom of Thought Report: http://freethoughtreport.com/
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.