Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Blasphemy Laws in a Digital Age

2017-03-07 at 2:30 pm - 4:00 pm


7th March 2017, 14:30-16:00
United Nation, Palais des Nations (Room XXVII)
Geneva, Switzerland

organised by

sponsored by

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.


  • Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
  • Joelle Fiss, independent researcher and consultant, author of 2016 Brookings Institution report Anti-Blasphemy in the Digital age: When Hardliners Take Over.
  • Kacem El Ghazzali, Moroccan writer and activist who received death threats and fled country over his public atheism.
  • Alber Saber, Egyptian computer science student and blogger was forced to escape country in 2012 over allegations of sharing video on social media.
  • Azam Khan, Bangladeshi blogger and activist forced to leave home country due to ongoing attacks against fellow bloggers.
  • Elizabeth OCasey, Director of Advocacy, International Humanist and Ethical Union; Vice Chair, UN NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief (Geneva).


2:30 pm - 4:00 pm
Event Categories:
, ,


Center for Inquiry


Palais des Nations
Geneva, Switzerland
+ Google Map