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Protest held in Belfast in favour of repealing Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws

A protest against Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws took place in Belfast today to raise awareness of the damaging impact of the law in countries where people face extreme punishment for expressing their views on religion.

Northern Ireland Humanists, which is part of the charity Humanists UK, organised the protests on International Blasphemy Day (Monday, 30 September) as part of its campaign to abolish Northern Ireland’s blasphemy laws.

Protesters urged Northern Ireland to play its part in the global fight against blasphemy by removing it as a crime under common law, the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888, and the Criminal Libel Act 1819, which remain in force in Northern Ireland.

Retaining blasphemy laws like those in Northern Ireland, even if they are not often used, legitimises their use in countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where people face the death penalty, mob violence, and other persecution. The abolition of these laws, on the other hand, can be a striking declaration to the world that free speech should not be a crime. Recent abolitions in New Zealand, Canada, and elsewhere, and the upcoming abolition in the Republic of Ireland, have had this beneficial effect.

Even in countries where prosecutions are not common, these laws have still been a source of injustice, as was seen in the Republic of Ireland in 2017 when Humanists UK patron Stephen Fry was investigated for blasphemy.

All parties in Northern Ireland support abolishing the laws except for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) which is considering its position.

Earlier this month Humanists UK submitted evidence to the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on alarming cases of individuals who have been murdered for declaring they have no religious beliefs on their social media accounts.

Northern Ireland Humanists coordinator Boyd Sleator said: ‘Today’s protest shows many people are concerned about the damaging impact of Northern Ireland’s laws that make blasphemy a crime. People should be able to express their fundamental right to free expression about all religions and beliefs but instead many countries viciously persecute people for sharing those beliefs. We urge Northern Ireland to stand in solidarity with the global community and abolish its blasphemy law urgently.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read our news items on the Northern Ireland blasphemy campaign and the parties’ responses.

Read our news item on the global persecution of the non-religious.

Visit our Northern Ireland blasphemy campaign here.

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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