Compendium Details Blasphemy Laws Challenging Human Rights Worldwide

May 22, 2014 - New York City - Human Rights First and the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic of Cardozo Law School today released the first publicly available compendium to outline blasphemy laws from around the world. The compilation is a useful tool for human rights defenders, governments, civil society leaders and legal experts working to combat abuses created by blasphemy laws that permit the prosecution of individuals for defaming or insulting religions.

“This first-of-its-kind compendium gives us a better understanding of the legal landscape of blasphemy and how the sweeping language of these laws often poses grave human rights concerns, and heightens social and political instability in many countries,” said Human Rights First’s Joelle Fiss. “This resource will provide valuable insight to those working to tackle human rights abuses rooted in allegations of blasphemy.”

According to Fiss, blasphemy laws and the international concept of prohibiting “defamation of religions” are inconsistent with universal human rights standards that protect groups and individuals from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, political opinion and other criteria. Blasphemy laws often foster intolerance through governmental restrictions on freedom of expression, thought, and religion, resulting in devastating consequences for religious minorities and stifling political dissent. Accusations of blasphemy in the Islamic world and beyond have sparked assaults, murders and mob attacks, and have resulted in arrests and arbitrary detentions. 

The research included in the compendium released today is divided into two separate documents:

  1. Laws that specifically reference the sanctioning of insult, blasphemy or defamation of religion. These “blasphemy laws” in the narrow sense seek to punish individuals for offending, insulting, or denigrating religious doctrines, deities, symbols or the sacred, and more broadly, for wounding or outraging religious feelings. These laws use precise reference to the prohibition of insulting religion.
  2. Related laws that do not specifically reference blasphemy, but can be used to prosecute for that offence or are misused for the purpose of punishing minority communities or political dissidents. Although the laws do not specifically address blasphemy or the insult to religion, they have still been used by the state to punish individuals who have allegedly committed blasphemy.  In many cases, governments provide for a state religion and have laws that prohibit the “violation of public morals,” which may equate to offending religious values.  

For more information, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.