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‘Blasphemy law by the back door’: BHA and human rights campaigners condemn attempts to silence criticism of religion

Human rights campaigners have reacted with concern to the news that Jordan is seeking to restrict freedom of expression on matters of religion. A new resolution tabled by Jordan at the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) calls for ‘respect for religions and religious symbols’ and would legitimise attempts from states to criminalise speech deemed ‘defamation of religion’ or which offends religious sensibilities.

Campaigners, including the British Humanist Association (BHA), have warned that such a move would significantly compromise human rights for people around the world, particularly for the non-religious and those of minority religions. The BHA and others are urging the IPU to reject it.

Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights ensure the right to free expression, including on matters of religion or belief, but legal restrictions against this freedom remain widespread. The International Humanist and Ethical Union found in its 2014 Freedom of Thought Report that 68 countries place legal restriction on blasphemy or religious insult, while 20 states outlaw atheism. As part of the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws, the BHA has highlighted their misuse at the UN Human Rights Council and called for their repeal. Earlier this month, for the 28th session of the Human Rights Council, the BHA delegation singled out for hypocrisy those Council members whose laws include the death penalty for being non-religious.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal commented that ‘The proposed resolution is nothing more than blasphemy law by the back door and must be strenuously rejected by all those who support the right to free expression. Our every liberty depends upon our right to voice our opinions and disagreements without fear of reprisal or censorship. While blasphemy-related attacks continue to take lives around the world, and while many states continue to punish alleged blasphemers and apostates with the death penalty and other brutal sanctions, the international community should be coming together to repeal these inhumane laws, not to further undermine human rights.’

Notes

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

Read the Article 19 open letter to IPU delegates, signed by the BHA: http://www.article19.org/data/files/medialibrary/37912/IPU-letter.pdf

Read the 2014 Freedom of Thought Report: freethoughtreport.com

Learn more about the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws: end-blasphemy-laws.org

Read the Oxford Declaration on Freedom of Thought and Expressioniheu.org/oxford-declaration-on-freedom-of-thought-and-expression

Read about the BHA’s statements at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council:

Read about new pattern of scapegoating and targeting of the non-religious, as found by the International Humanist and Ethical Union: humanism.org.uk/2014/12/10/freedom-thought-report-2014-non-religious-targeted-hate-campaigns-report-finds

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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