Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blasphemy Laws and Human Rights

A new report titled Policing Beliefs: The Impact of Blasphemy on Human Rights by Freedom House examines how blasphemy laws in various countries are used "to legitimize crackdowns on minority groups, dissidents and other divergent views under the pretext of maintaining 'social harmony.'" Also see the press release here.

According to the introduction:
In countries with weak democracies, authoritarian systems, or compromised judiciaries, these laws have a particularly pernicious effect:
  • Governments have abused blasphemy laws to silence the political opposition, government critics, and other dissidents.
  • Individuals have fabricated charges of blasphemy against others in their communities to settle petty disputes.
  • Religious extremists have exploited blasphemy laws to justify attacks on religious minorities, thereby fostering an environment of intolerance where discrimination is effectively condoned by the state.
  • Religious institutions, often with official or unofficial government backing, have used blasphemy laws to impose the state-sanctioned interpretations of religious doctrine on members of minority sects that are deemed deviant or heretical.
While freedom of expression is always constrained by blasphemy laws, through direct enforcement as well as the self-censorship they engender, this report identifies a host of other human rights that are negatively affected by such laws:
  • The selective application of blasphemy laws gives rise to discrimination based on religion and belief, as religious minorities and heterodox sects are often targeted disproportionately.
  • In many cases, alleged blasphemers have been arbitrarily arrested based on false or unsubstantiated accusations of blasphemy, and reports of unfair trials, lax legal procedures, and prolonged periods of pretrial or administrative detention on blasphemy charges are plentiful.
  • Individuals accused of blasphemy have endured torture and ill-treatment in custody.
  • Blasphemy suspects, including those who have been acquitted, have experienced breaches of their right to security of the person in the form of death threats, mob beatings, and other violence by nonstate actors.

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