Advocacy statements

Blasphemy laws and freedom of expression for the non-religious

  • Date / 2017
  • Location / Mauritania
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 4: Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention


International Humanist and Ethical Union

United Nations Human Rights Council, 28th Session

Agenda Item 4: General Debate


In January this year in Mauritania, writer Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir was sentenced to death for “apostasy”. M’Kheitir had pleaded not guilty to the charge, which related to an article he wrote in which he challenged decisions taken by the prophet of Islam and his companions during the “holy wars”[1]. Last year, Aminatou Mint El Moctar, Chair of the Association of Women’s Heads of Households, was the target of a fatwa calling for her death simply because she speaking out in support of M’Kheitir[2].

In Pakistan more than a thousand people have been prosecuted for blasphemy since introducing its current anti-blasphemy laws in 1988. Hundreds are awaiting trial for blasphemy and dozens of those found guilty remain on death row[3].

In Saudi Arabia, a court sentenced a man to death last month by beheading after he was found guilty of insulting Islam after ripping a copy of the Holy Quran, filming the act and publishing it on social networks[4].

According to the family of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who was sentenced to a decade in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam, he now faces the possibility of being beheaded by the state for renouncing the religion[5]. Badawi’s legal representative, Waleed Abulkhair, has just had his 15-year jail sentence upheld[6].

In Vietnam, three activists known for calling for religious freedom in the country were sentenced to several years in prison[7]. It was reported that whilst the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, was visiting Vietnam this year, police intimidated and put many dissidents and religious activists under house arrest[8].

Exercising free expression on matters of religion or belief and defending those who do so, is a right, Mr President, not a crime. Pakistan, Mauritania and Member States Vietnam and Saudi Arabia might note their correlative duty to protect such rights, not criminalise them.


[1] http://iheu.org/iheu-condemns-death-sentence-for-apostasy-handed-to-writer-in-mauritania/

[2] http://www.equalitynow.org/take_action/mauritania_urgent_alert

[3] Freedom of Thought Report 2014, International Humanist and Ethical Union

[4] http://www.emirates247.com/news/region/saudi-sentenced-to-death-for-abusing-islam-2015-02-23-1.581973

[5]  http://www.amnesty.org.au/action/action/36113/

[6] http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/saudi-court-upholds-15-year-sentence-human-rights-lawyer-894395603#sthash.L3g4C0PG.dpuf

[7] https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/asia/vietnam/15929-viet-nam-drop-trumped-up-charges-against-human-rights-defenders-bui-thi

[8] https://www.fidh.org/International-Federation-for-Human-Rights/europe/france/16892-charlie-hebdo-after-the-shock-and-mobilisation-comes-time-for-action

Suggested academic reference

'Blasphemy laws and freedom of expression for the non-religious', Humanists International

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