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In a speech condemning the recent passage of a blasphemy law in Ireland, and UK legislation which criminalises, among other things, causing “religiously aggravated distress”, Roy Brown, IHEU Main Representative at the UN Geneva, asked the Human Rights Council whether these two governments have forgotten that it is individuals not ideas or beliefs that merit protection. He also criticized the way in which, at the other extreme, Pakistan permits expression of hatred in the media against Ahmadiyyas and other religious minorities to go unchecked.

Here is Brown’s speech in full.

International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 14th Session (31 May – 18 June 2010)
Speaker: IHEU Representative, Roy W Brown: Monday 7 June 2010
Agenda Item 3B: Civil and Political Rights

Challenges to Freedom of Expression

Mr President:

We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and his co-authorship of the Joint Declaration on Challenges to Freedom of Expression which we fully endorse.

As an organisation representing millions of the world’s non-believers, we share the Special Rapporteur’s concerns regarding the criminalization of criticism of beliefs, schools of thought, ideologies, religions, religious symbols and ideas, and the use of the notion of group defamation to penalize speech beyond the narrow and permitted scope of penalizing incitement to hatred.

We deplore limitations on their right to freedom of expression suffered by many minorities and disadvantaged groups, such as women, religious minorities, non-believers and sexual minorities. We cite as examples the recent passage of a blasphemy law in Ireland, and a United Kingdom law against causing religiously aggravated distress, with penalties of up to seven years imprisonment for offenders. Both governments seem to have forgotten that it is individuals, not ideas or beliefs, that merit protection, and that there is no right not to be distressed or offended.

We support the appeal in the Joint Declaration to improve access to information-–and in particular, the Internet-–and urge governments to restrict limitations to internet access only to situations falling within the scope of Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR.

On the other hand, we are deeply concerned that necessary limitations on hate speech towards certain minorities demanded by Article 20 are frequently not applied, and in some states it seems that hate speech towards minorities is actively encouraged by governments. We cite as an example the widespread, public denigration of the Ahmadiyya minority in Pakistan, which led inexorably to last month’s massacre.

Thank you, sir.

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