Advocacy statements

Blasphemy in Egypt, Algeria and Bangladesh

  • Date / 2016
  • Location / Algeria
  • 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, 32nd Session (13th June – 1st July 2016)

General Debate on Item 8 – Vienna Declaration

The Vienna Declaration calls upon states to take all appropriate measures […] to counter intolerance and related violence based on religion or belief, and recognise “that every individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, expression and religion.” (§22)

Anti-Blasphemy laws directly undermine these freedoms[1] and stand in opposition to international human rights law. General Comment 34 on the ICCPR explicitly affirms that, “prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible” with human rights.[2]

The prohibition of so-called “blasphemy” has become “an increasingly common way for governments to silence debate; not only debate about religion per se but to silence dissenting views on politics, calls for individual freedoms, or to provoke hatred against minorities.”[3] Some examples:

In Egypt: There has been a plethora of lawsuits against several public figures for insulting Islam and Christianity since the 2011 uprising. Cases include Islam El-Behery, a prominent Islamic researcher and TV presenter, and four teenage boys who were sentenced for up to five years in an adult prison for satirizing Daesh.[4]

In Algeria: Just under two weeks ago Rachid Fodil, a social media activist, was arrested after having been accused of so-called “blasphemy” offences for his philosophical writings. It has been reported that he is being tortured and exposed to violence.[5]

In Bangladesh, in response to the brutal murders of free-thinking bloggers there, the government’s response was to say that it would take action against anyone defaming Islam.[6] Under the existing cyber laws, a person can be jailed for up to 10 years if convicted of defaming a religion online.

Blasphemy laws not only afford different levels of protection to different religions,[7] but risk legitimising religious intolerance, and creating a permissive environment for inter-communal violence.

We call on the Council to forcefully recognise both the pernicious and illegal status of blasphemy laws, as well as oversee the implementation of the Rabat Plan of Action, which recommends the repeal of blasphemy laws worldwide.


[1] The International Humanist and Ethical Union’s 2014 Freedom of Thought Report found that 55 countries had criminal laws restricting blasphemy. See: http://freethoughtreport.com

[2] CCPR/C/GC/34:48

[3] http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G14/041/49/PDF/G1404149.pdf?OpenElement

[4] http://end-blasphemy-laws.org/2015/10/the-week-in-blasphemy-news-37/, https://barnabasfund.org/news/Egypt-blasphemy-cases

[5] http://www.lematindz.net/news/20988-delit-dopinion-sur-facebook-trois-algeriens-jetes-en-prison.html

[6] http://www.dw.de/tension-flares-over-blasphemy-and-free-speech/a-16728459

[7] http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Opinion/SeminarRabat/Rabat_draft_outcome.pdf

Suggested academic reference

'Blasphemy in Egypt, Algeria and Bangladesh', Humanists International

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