The International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, which Fiona chairs, have this week released a Statement on Blasphemy, Apostasy and Related Offences. The full statement can be read below.
"As Members of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance we note the recent research that examined 12 countries that retain the death penalty as a lawful possibility for blasphemy and related offences.
We note long-standing concerns about blasphemy laws reflected in General Comment 34 of the UN Human Rights Committee, the 2012 Rabat Plan of Action ; the 2016 report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief ; the findings of a 2017 report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief ; and the 2017 Beirut Declaration . We further note international consensus and commitment that States address intolerance, violence and discrimination on the basis of religion and the primacy of positive policy measures (rather than restrictive laws) as reflected in the annual UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 .
More recently, statements from the 2018 and 2019 Ministerial conference to advance freedom of religion or belief addressed blasphemy and apostasy laws and called for their universal repeal and the release of individuals jailed under those charges.
In addition, the 2020 report by the UN Secretary-General on the Moratorium on the use of the death penalty declared that “The death penalty should never be imposed as a sanction for non-violent conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, witchcraft, adultery and same-sex relations.”
Further we note that since 2015, the following States or jurisdictions have repealed blasphemy laws that had not been used for decades: Iceland (2015), Norway (2015), Malta (2016), Denmark (2018), Canada (2018), Greece (2019), New Zealand (2019), Ireland (2020), and Scotland (2021).
- Recognise the interconnected nature of freedom of religion or belief with other human rights, and note how blasphemy laws impede the freedoms of expression and religion or belief in ways inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
- Stand in firm opposition to blasphemy laws and other laws that penalise individuals for exercising their freedom to choose a faith, practice a faith, change their religion, not hold a religion, tell others about their beliefs and practices, or openly debate and discuss aspects of faith or belief;
- Unequivocally call for the end of the death penalty for any activity categorised as blasphemy, apostasy, or speech that might “defame” or “insult” religious sentiments;
- Call for the repeal or reform of blasphemy laws, as such laws are often used as a pretext to justify vigilantism or mob violence in the name of religion or as a pretext to pursue retribution related to personal grievances;
- Urge governments to impose moratoriums on executions for blasphemy or related offences, and unconditionally release individuals imprisoned based on their views on matters of religion or belief that may differ from official narratives or the views of majority populations;
- Call on all states to support the UN General Assembly resolution ‘Moratorium on the use of the death penalty’, contributing to progress towards global abolition
- Stand in solidarity with individuals imprisoned or otherwise impacted by blasphemy and other related offences.
- Reiterate our commitment to the Istanbul Process as a process for monitoring and driving implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 action plan to prevent and respond to manifestations of intolerance, discrimination, hatred and violence based on religion or belief."
Co-signatories: Australia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Greece, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
- The Monash University research on 10.10.21 ‘Killing in the Name of God: State-sanctioned Violations of Religious Freedom” identified 12 countries as retaining the death penalty as a lawful possibility for offences against religion as of 2021: Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
- The 2012 Rabat Plan of Action identified the “numerous examples of persecution of religious minorities or dissenters, but also of atheists and non-theists” by blasphemy laws and recommended States “repeal them, as such laws have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief, and healthy dialogue and debate about religion.”
- The 2016 report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief identified how “Numerous reports have given clear evidence that members of religious minorities typically suffer disproportionately from [blasphemy] laws, which also target converts, dissidents, non-believers, critics within the majority religion and individuals engaging in unwelcome missionary activities.”
- The 2017 report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief highlighted how “Anti-blasphemy, anti-apostasy and anti-conversion laws … often serve as platforms for enabling incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence against persons based on religion or belief,” and that these laws “often give States licence to determine which conversations on religion are admissible and which ones are too controversial to be voiced.” The same report found that “Anti-blasphemy laws have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of the freedom of religion or belief and the freedom of opinion and expression and should be repealed.”
- The 2017 Beirut Declaration on faith for rights urged “States that still have anti-blasphemy or anti-apostasy laws to repeal them, since such laws have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief as well as on healthy dialogue and debate about religious issues.”