Advocacy statements

Blasphemy and apostasy laws violate freedom of religion or belief

  • Date / 2019
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights

40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Speaker: Elizabeth O’Casey

We would like to thank Dr Shaheed for his excellent report, and for his clear and eloquent confirmation that anti-blasphemy and -apostasy laws can never be justified under the international human rights framework.

It is an important issue for us, because for many of our members across the world the very manifestation of their fundamental right to FoRB is construed as blasphemous.

Indeed, the expression of humanist values and our commitment to the cultivation of ethical and creative living, to the transformative power of art, science, anti-dogma and free inquiry, and the belief that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature needing no external sanction, is by definition in the law of some states inherently blasphemous (and often by extension terrorist or extremist).

Of course, this is not unique to humanists and atheists; as Dr Shaheed observes, minority beliefs which per se may challenge the convictions of majority religious communities by way of their very existence are regularly targeted.

There is an urgent need to combat hate, discrimination and intolerance on the grounds of belief. But blasphemy laws are counterproductive in this quest; they fail to protect those with minority beliefs and actually most often make those minorities a target of hate. If we are to genuinely counter intolerance, we must protect the rights of all individuals whatever their belief. We must fulfil our ethical duty to counter offensive expression through dialogue, counter speech, education, and public debate.

The right to free thought, religion, conscience and expression together protect personal choices and personal convictions; they are central to respecting who we are now as individuals and whom we can become.

Dr Shaheed highlighted the importance of a victim-based approach when addressing these issues, an approach we wholeheartedly support. I will end my intervention by remembering just a few of those victims in jail today, on charges of blasphemy: Mohamed Mkheitir, Soheil Arabi, Ashraf Fayadh, Raif Badawi, Ahmad Al Shamri, and Assad Noor.

Suggested academic reference

'Blasphemy and apostasy laws violate freedom of religion or belief', Humanists International

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