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At a human rights meeting with the participating countries of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has again made a call for the abolition of blasphemy laws.

Stephen Fry was accused last year of ‘blasphemy’ in Ireland over a TV interview

At the 2018 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), held in Warsaw, the IHEU pointed out that “prohibitions on “blasphemy” or “religious insult” encourage intolerance, discrimination, hostility and can lead to a wide range of human rights abuses.”

During a working session on tolerance and non-discrimination, Tars van Litsenborgh – who delivered the IHEU statement – listed the 15 countries in the OSCE region who currently still outlaw blasphemy: Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Malta, Montenegro, Poland, San Marino, Spain, and Turkey. (The UK also has ‘blasphemy’ laws on statute in Northern Ireland and Scotland.)

He also said that, “over the past decade in a number of these, including in Russia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Greece, these laws have been used to sentence people with imprisonment.”

The IHEU statement reiterated that many UN experts and instruments have all called for the abolition of such laws; and ended by reminding participants that next month, Ireland will be holding a referendum on removing the anti-blasphemy provision from its Constitution. The IHEU said, “We wholeheartedly hope the people set a good example by voting to approve its removal.”

The IHEU is a founding partner in the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, calling for ‘blasphemy’ laws to be repealed in every country.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is the world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization. Its mandate includes issues such as arms control, promotion of human rights, freedom of the press, and fair elections.


 International Humanist and Ethical Union

OSCE’s 2018 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
(10 – 21 September 2018)

Working session 6: Tolerance and non-discrimination 

In their vital quest to combat intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, we urge all OSCE participating states who have them, to repeal their blasphemy laws.

All evidence shows that prohibitions on “blasphemy” or “religious insult” encourage intolerance, discrimination, hostility and can lead to a wide range of human rights abuses. Across the world there are numerous examples of persecution and discrimination against religious and non-religious minorities and dissenters that come as a result of legislation on “religious offence.”

As pointed out by the UN Rabat Plan of Action, “blasphemy laws may result in de facto censure of all inter-religious or belief and intra-religious or belief dialogue, debate and criticism, most of which could be constructive, healthy and needed.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Free Expression, the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide have all called for blasphemy laws to be repealed globally. As have international instruments specifically written on the subject of combating intolerance and discrimination, such as the Fez and Rabat Plans of Action, and the Beirut Declaration.

Yet, there are 15 countries in the OSCE region which outlaw blasphemy: Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Malta, Montenegro, Poland, San Marino, Spain, and Turkey.

Over the past decade in a number of these, including in Russia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Greece, these laws have been used to sentence people with imprisonment.

You cannot end intolerance based on religion or belief by selectively silencing speech of religious and non-religious people. In some cases, just the advocacy of one’s belief might be construed or received as a criticism of another’s beliefs; that is the small price we pay for protecting freedom of religion or belief, free expression, and the promotion of mutual understanding for fostering tolerance.

We must protect the rights of all individuals to be free from intolerance, discrimination and hate crimes; and we must counter offensive expression through dialogue, counter speech, education, and public debate – not through its criminalization.

Next month, Ireland will hold a referendum on removing the anti-blasphemy provision from its Constitution. We wholeheartedly hope the people set a good example by voting to approve its removal.

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