7th March 2017, 14:30-16:00
United Nation, Palais des Nations (Room XXVII)
Blasphemy laws have always posed a grave threat to the exercise of the fundamental human rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression. Their mere existence creates taboos and curtails freedom of thought. Their enforcement means countless secular commentators and religious minorities continue to be harassed, jailed, tortured and killed. Many of these individuals are expressing legitimate human rights concerns, or engaging in satire. Some are expressing their own non-religious or minority religious beliefs, or openly discussing certain religious practices and institutions. Others are arbitrarily targeted in malicious accusations.
The digital age has opened up a whole new front for blasphemy accusations. The advent and spread of social media allows individuals around the world to connect with likeminded people, and express their views in public and private, on numerous platforms, in numerous ways, in a matter of moments. Yet, in a vast number of countries, governments continue to use blasphemy laws, or proxies for blasphemy laws (such as vague sedition laws, ‘national harmony’ laws, incitement prohibitions) to repress such activity.
The UN has created instruments, specifically the Rabat Plan of Action, Resolution 16/18 and the accompanying Istanbul Process that seek to promote free expression, whilst clarifying its limits, and establishing the parameters of hate speech.
This side event will examine laws that criminalize blasphemy, with a particular focus on present day problems and challenges; outline moral and international norms on expression regarding religion; and explore what social media companies, civil society actors, and governments can do to protect free expression and better implement the goals of the Istanbul Process.