The IHEU at the UN Human Rights Council has called for global repeal of apostasy and blasphemy laws, which are used to silence debate and discriminate against minorities.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) delivered its final statement of the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council this morning, raising serious concerns about laws against apostasy and blasphemy.
IHEU representative, Kacem El Ghazzali, noted that, as the IHEU’s Freedom of Thought Report records, there are 13 countries where expression of atheism is punishable by the death penalty (in 12 of these, the charge comes under anti-apostasy laws and in one, Pakistan, under an anti-blasphemy law). He voiced his concerns for those atheists, freethinkers and secular Muslims living in Muslim majority countries who “are often demonized, feared, arrested and systematically persecuted.”
He said, “freedom of speech is meant to allow people to think and express themselves freely without fear of persecution or discrimination; individuals from all religions and beliefs have the right to criticize debate or even ridicule and insult different ideas or beliefs as long as they do not incite violence or advocate hate.”
El Ghazzali also highlighted two cases of individuals of concern, both of whom have been charged with apostasy and blasphemy. In the first case: Mauritanian writer Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir is still facing death after being imprisoned in 2014. He has been accused of “apostasy” and “insulting the Prophet”, over an article making reference to the role of Islamic teachings in the perpetuation of slavery. For unknown portions of his imprisonment M’Kheitir has been kept in solitary confinement. Many religious figures, and the Mauritanian President himself, have said that “God’s law” should be followed, and that he should be executed.
The other case concerns Rachid Fodil, an Algerian social media activist, who is currently carrying out a five-year sentence in jail on the charge of “blasphemy,” after he published posts on social media and created a song using several verses from the Qur’an.
The Algerian press described Fodil as part of “a dangerous criminal network operating over the Internet with followers throughout the country, specialising in combating the Islamic faith by propagating posts, propaganda videos, articles and cartoons that insult Allah and his Messenger and the Prophets.”
El Ghazzali’s statement is in full below:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
UN Human Rights Council, 34th Session (27th February – 31st March 2017)
General Debate on Item 4: Contemporary Forms of Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Kacem El Ghazzali
Atheists, freethinkers and even sometimes secular Muslims living in Muslim majority countries are often demonized, feared, arrested and systematically persecuted.
In our recent IHEU Freedom of Thought report, we reported 12 countries where apostasy is punished by the death penalty – in all of which, Islam is the state religion. Those states deny the very rights that this Council has pledged to promote and protect. Surprisingly therefore, many of them are member states of this council.
Blasphemy laws violate Human Rights; they violate the most valuable of rights, which are freedom of speech and thought. We have been following and have raised several cases showing how blasphemy laws are politically-used to silence dissidents and discriminate against minorities.
One case we have raise many times without success, is that of the anti-slavery Mauritanian activist and blogger, Mohamed Ould Sheikh Mkheitir, who was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death for writing an article where he argued against the use of religion in upholding racial discrimination in his home country. Another is that of Rachid Fodil, who is doing a five-year sentence in jail on the charge of blasphemy in Algeria, after he published posts on social media and created a song using several verses from the Qur’an.
Freedom of speech is meant to allow people to think and express themselves freely without fear of persecution or discrimination; individuals from all religions and beliefs have the right to criticize debate or even ridicule and insult different ideas or beliefs as long as they do not incite violence or advocate hate.
We urge the Council to condemn the use of apostasy and blasphemy laws against any peaceful bloggers, freethinkers and secular Muslims, and to urge Islamic countries to implement UN Resolution 16/18 and the Rabat Plan of Action – which seeks to prevent incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence whilst protecting free speech.