Advocacy statements

Arbitrary arrest and anti-blasphemy laws

  • Date / 2017
  • Location / Mauritania
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 8: Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 36th Session (11 September – 29 September 2017)

General Debate on Item 8

The Vienna Declaration expresses dismay and condemnation that gross and systematic violations and obstacles to the full enjoyment of all human rights, including arbitrary arrest and detention still occur across the world. The declaration also forcefully defends the right to freedom of thought, conscience, expression and religion.

In reality, the problem of arbitrary arrest and detention is often seriously compounded by anti-blasphemy laws and the outlawing of religious insult.

For example, in Mauritania, anti-slavery writer, Cheikh Ould Mohammed Mkheitir is still being arbitrarily detained for allegedly insulting Islam, and has been sentenced to death.

In Saudi Arabia, a country where authorities repeatedly fail to abide by international standards for fair trial, Raif Badawi,[1] Ashraf Fayadh, and Ahmad Al Shamri have all been charged with similar offenses and are still being subjected to arbitrary detention. Al Shamri has been sentenced to death.[2]

These cases demonstrate states acting in violation of the detention and trial provisions of both the UDHR and the ICCPR, and Articles 18 and 19 protecting freedom of belief and expression.

For a state to prohibit blasphemy and religious insult goes against their international human rights obligations. But for a state to then punish and detain people without a fair trial or just procedure on such charges represents a peculiarly cowardly and reprehensible practice.

Like those at the World Conference on Human Rights, we express dismay and condemnation that gross and systematic violations of human rights are still happening in spite of the plethora of laws protecting them.

We call for the immediate release of Al Shamri, Badawi, Fayadh, and MKheitir, and urge members and observers concerned about arbitrary detention and the right to free expression and belief to do the same.


[1]http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Detention/Opinions2015AUV/Opinion%202015%2038_SaudiArabia_Sheikh_al_Rashudi%20and%20et_final_AUV.pdf, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/11/saudi-arabia-un-expert-working-group-highlights-appalling-record-on-unlawful-detention-of-peaceful-activists/

[2] http://iheu.org/man-sentenced-death-atheism-saudi-arabia/

Suggested academic reference

'Arbitrary arrest and anti-blasphemy laws', Humanists International

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