International Humanist and Ethical Union
United Nations Human Rights Council, 28th Session
Agenda Item 8: General Debate
The Vienna Declaration recognises “that every individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, expression and religion”.
Despite this, over the past months we have witnessed inconsistencies and hypocrisy when it comes to free expression in the context of religious belief, as personified by those state leaders who jumped at the chance in January to march in the Parisian limelight for the right to free speech, only to maintain laws criminalising blasphemy and offensive expression at home.
Notably such types of laws have all too often been applied selectively; punishing and silencing dissenting or unpopular viewpoints, with the first victims of such violations being those giving voice to independent thought.
Examples of this throughout the world abound; in India and Pakistan, blasphemy laws are often used to persecute those from minority communities, and just a couple of weeks ago in Russia, it was announced that the Russian Orthodox Church is suing a theatre director for directing an opera that “offends the feelings of believers”.
Within the EU too, inconsistencies exist; despite its excellent guidelines on freedom of religion or belief, which note that no religion or belief should be guaranteed protection from criticism or ridicule, there are 13 member states with laws relating to blasphemy, or to the similar offence of ‘religious insult’.
There needs to be an end to inconsistencies, empty rhetoric and hypocrisy on free expression in the context of freedom of religion or belief. Instead, a clear commitment must be made; and that must start with this Council. A good place would be through strengthening consensus around resolution 16/18 and Rabat, whilst ensuring the Istanbul process is not sabotaged by those Council Members set on stalling the Plan of Action.
 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, §22
 See for example, http://www.daijiworld.com/news/news_disp.asp?n_id=301981, https://www.persecutionofahmadis.org/the-blasphemy-law-in-pakistan-ahmadis/, The International Humanist and Ethical Union’s Freedom of Thought report 2014
 During the 28th Session of the Council, an OIC representative announced that Saudi Arabia would be hosting the Istanbul process in June.
'Free expression in the context of freedom of religion or belief', Humanists International