Advocacy statements

Protecting the right to criticise religion in Muslim countries

  • Date / 2017
  • Location / Bangladesh
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 9: Follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 35th Session (6th June – 23rd June 2017)

General Debate on Item 9: Follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

The Durban Declaration recognises the central role religion and belief can play in the “inherent dignity and worth of the human person and to the eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

[Manifesting one’s religion or belief can include questioning the instrumentalisation of religion by another for political gain, and challenging ideas where one sees abuse.]

In April, 29-year-old Ahmad Al Shamri was sentenced to death after his appeal against charges of ‘atheism and blasphemy’ was denied in Saudi Arabia.

In May, Christian governor of Jakarta, Ahok [Basuki Tjahaja Purnama], was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of blasphemy against Islam after he tried to address attacks from Muslim hard-liners who argued that the Quran prohibited Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim.

This month in Bangladesh, human rights defender Sultana Kamal was publicly threatened with extreme violence by Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam, who misrepresented the comments she made during a TV talk show.

Last week in Pakistan, 30-year-old Taimoor Raza, who has a Shia Muslim background, was accused of making a post that made “derogatory” remarks about the Prophet Mohammad on Facebook and sentenced with death. [In March, the government said Facebook was cooperating with court-mandated attempts to remove “blasphemy” from the internet]. This comes in the wake of a series of “blasphemy”-related incidents including enforced disappearances, a social media crackdown and arrests of “atheists”, and the murder of “humanist” student Mashal Khan.

You cannot end intolerance based on religion or belief by selectively silencing speech of religious and non-religious people. In some cases, just the advocacy of one’s belief might be construed or received as a criticism of another’s beliefs; that is the small price we pay for protecting freedom of religion or belief, free expression, and the promotion of mutual uderstanding for fostering tolerance.

[We urge this Council to bear in mind the crucial role of respecting Article 18 and 19 of the ICCPR in combatting intolerance.]

Suggested academic reference

'Protecting the right to criticise religion in Muslim countries', Humanists International

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