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At the UN a group of humanist NGOs have called on Greece to decriminalise blasphemy in the country and ensure that incitement to racial hatred is outlawed.

People protesting racism and fascism in Greece.

People protesting racism and fascism in Greece.

During the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, Cordelia Tucker O’Sullivan, on behalf of the Humanist Union of Greece (HUG),  the British Humanist Association (BHA), the European Humanist Federation (EHF) and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) made a statement supporting Brazil’s call to decriminalise blasphemy, to prohibit the dissemination of  ideas relating to racial superiority or hatred and declare illegal organisations who incite racial discrimination, as recommended by a number of  UN experts.

This follows an open letter sent to Greece’s Ministry of Justice in June, by dozens of humanist and secularist organizations, including the IHEU, the EHF and HUG, which called on the Greek government to follow through on its commitment to freedom of thought and expression, and finally abolish its “blasphemy” laws.

Panayote Dimitras, Spokesperson of the Humanist Union of Greece, commented, “This statement marked the first time that non-governmental organisations raised before the Human Rights Council the need for Greece to bring its human rights legislation up to contemporary standards; i.e. by decriminalizing blasphemy and re-criminalizing racist hate speech. Until now, it has only been UN Treaty Bodies that have addressed these issues in Greece.

“We were pleased to have been able to have communicated this matter of concern to a such a wide and influential audience, which included scores of state delegations to the UN and NGOs from around the world. We hope that it is this sort of pressure on the Greek government that may will eventually succeed in encouraging it to amend its legislation.”

The group of humanist organisations also submitted a written statement on the issue.

The oral statement follows in full below:


British Humanist Association (BHA)
International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
European Humanist and Ethical Union (EHF)
Humanist Union of Greece (HUG)

UN Human Rights Council, 33rd Session (13 – 30 September 2016)
Item 6 – Greece UPR
Cordelia Tucker O’Sullivan
Suggested recommendations to Greece on combating racism and abolishing blasphemy laws

I give this statement on behalf of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the European Humanist Federation, the Humanist Union of Greece, and the British Humanist Association.

Our organisations welcome the UN CERD’s concluding observations on the periodic reports of Greece published on 29 August 2016, and request that the recommendations raised therein are accepted by Greece and integrated into their legal framework.

In particular, we urge Greece to:

  • Recognise that the fundamental right to freedom of expression should not undermine the principles of dignity, tolerance, equality, and non-discrimination, as the exercise of the right to free expression carries with it special responsibilities, among which is the obligation not to disseminate ideas relating to racial superiority or hatred, a principle reiterated by the UN CERD;
  • As a consequence of the above, bring its anti-racism legal framework into full compliance with the requirements of article 4 of the ICERD, by restoring the criminalisation of the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority, as recommended by the UN CERD, and also in February 2015 by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance;
  • Declare illegal, and prohibit, organisations which promote and incite racial discrimination, such as the Golden Dawn political party, as recommended by the UN CERD both in 2009 and again in 2016, and also by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia related to intolerance, as well as by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and;
  • Ensure that they follow through with their commitment to ensure religious freedom and tolerance by decriminalising blasphemy, as recommended by the delegation of Brazil , and abolish articles 198 and 199 from its Criminal Code that are used in a discriminatory manner only in cases of blasphemy against the official Orthodox Christian religion, as recommended by the UN CERD.


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2 Responses to Humanists call on Greece to ban incitement to hatred and abolish blasphemy

  1. Cena Foura says:

    Why do you concern yourself with Greece and Blasphemy Laws which are in fact a barrier against islamisation. Greece is currently, and has been historically, under relentless islamic jihad by muslims.
    Now the “humanists” are helping to subvert Greece to islam, instead of attacking openly the real evil of Blasphemy laws as in islam itself, where apostates and minorities, especially christians are attacked and even murdered by muslims for their islamic ideology which expressly demands this kind of crime against humanity.
    Greece being a country with christian values should not be the prime target of IHEU but rather Saudi Arabia who dresses in white and enforces the exact same laws as does ISIS.
    You are all a bunch of cowards, attacking christian countries, instead of the islamic hellholes of the world.

    • IHEU Admin says:

      Dear Cena. We don’t believe ‘blasphemy’ laws are a “barrier against Islamisation” (they are not used in Europe to suppress Islamic beliefs per se); and that would not be a reason to keep them anyway. ‘Blasphemy’ laws are not a means of resisting religious extremism either; rather, they are themselves an example of religious oppression.

      You write as if you think we as an organisation only ever talk about Greece but this is very far from the case; as an organization we spend a lot more time talking about worse laws in more unjust countries precisely because they are worse and more unjust (search our website for your example of Saudi Arabia and you’ll see it is discussed much more often in far worse terms than is Greece, of course!).

      So of course Greece’s ‘blasphemy’ law is not as bad as Saudi Arabia’s. Nevertheless, both laws are wrong in principle – all ‘blasphemy’ laws in practice suppress freedom of expression about religion, and are used suppress non-conformist and critical views, and that is why we are against such laws — wherever they occur. And Greece’s law is bad in and of itself (the existence of worse laws with more severe punishments does not excuse European countries from making and upholding bad laws). Greece’s ‘blasphemy’ law mandates prison (up to 3 months) for anyone who “displays publicly with blasphemy a lack of respect for things divine”, and incredibly up to two years prison for “one who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes the Greek Orthodox Church or any other religion tolerable in Greece”. Similarly, speech that “offends people’s religious sentiments” is outlawed – this is the same wording as the blasphemy law (under the ICT Act) in Bangladesh that is being used to prosecute non-religious bloggers.

      So in fact, given some of the things you’ve said about Islam, you could face criminal prosecution for ‘blasphemy’ yourself one day! (and this kind of creeping criminalisation of all criticism of religion is one reason why all such laws are dangerous and should be abolished.)

      You may be interested in where we document ‘blasphemy’ laws and similar restrictions on free speech about religion (and you’ll be pleased to see that we distinguish between kinds of law, their severity and their likely outcomes).

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