Several states in which convicted ‘blasphemers’ are currently in jail are also current members of the Human Rights Council. This is despite numerous and clear statements, most recently the UNCIRF’s concise policy brief on blasphemy laws, to the effect that blasphemy and apostasy laws contravene international human rights standards. Any law which prohibits expression, or thought or belief, just because it contradicts a state-sanctioned religion, is in violation of at least two human rights: freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.

IHEU representative Kacem El Ghazzali

IHEU representative Kacem El Ghazzali

Kacem El Ghazzali, himself a victim of persecution against atheists in Morocco, spoke at the UN Human Rights Council representing the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) today, criticising member states who imprison people for ‘blasphemy’ and ‘apostasy’. The full text of his statement follows below:

United Nations Human Rights Council, 25th Session (3rd – 28th March 2014)
Agenda Item 4: General Debate
Kacem El Ghazzali, International Representative for IHEU 

IMPRISONED FOR APOSTASY AND BLASPHEMY: TWO CASES

It has now been 22 months that the Saudi intellectual and editor of a liberal website, Mr Raif Badawi, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Mr Badawi was sentenced to 7 years in jail and 600 lashes for “setting up a website that undermines general security ” and “ridiculing Islamic religious figures”.

Many human rights groups protested this cruel sentence; my own organization IHEU called it a “gratuitous, violent sentence”.

For some, this extreme punishment was not enough; last December, a judge recommended that the imprisoned blogger go before a high court on the charge of apostasy.[1]

Thus, while we are gathered here to talk about Human Rights and work for a better world, Mr Raif Badawi remains in jail and could receive the death penalty at any time.

Meanwhile in Mauritania, 28-year old blogger, Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir, has been arrested for publishing an article seen by some as lacking in respect for the prophet Muhammad and an act of apostasy. The latter is punishable by death, according to Article 306 of the Mauritanian penal code.[2]

Mr President, it is regrettable to think that every time we come to this council, we only get more cases where freethinkers are being arrested and threatened, while others remain in jail for so-called crimes of “apostasy” or “blasphemy”.

We note that while Saudi Arabia is not a signatory of the ICCPR and Mauritania has a reservation to Article 18 – the very Article to protect bloggers such as Mr M’Kheitir – these states nonetheless have been elected to this council; a council which is supposed to work to promote the freedom and human rights of all people, not just those fortunate enough to agree with the religious beliefs of the state they live in.

Thank you Sir.

[Notes]

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/25/world/meast/saudi-blogger-death-sentence/

[2] Article 306 of the Penal Code outlaws apostasy. It states that any Muslim found guilty of the crime will be given the opportunity to repent within three days and if the person does not repent, the individual will be sentenced to death and the person’s property will be confiscated by the Treasury.

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