Dozens in Russia Imprisoned for Social Media Likes, Reposts

The Associated Press has filed a lengthy report on the Russian government’s growing crackdown on freedom of expression:

As the Kremlin claims unequivocal support among Russians for its policies both at home and abroad, a crackdown is underway against ordinary social media users who post things that run against the official narrative. Here the Kremlin’s interests coincide with those of investigators, who are anxious to report high conviction rates for extremism. The Kremlin didn’t immediately comment on the issue.

At least 54 people were sent to prison for hate speech last year, most of them for sharing and posting things online, which is almost five times as many as five years ago, according to the Moscow-based Sova group, which studies human rights, nationalism and xenophobia in Russia. The overall number of convictions for hate speech in Russia increased to 233 last year from 92 in 2010.

A 2002 Russian law defines extremism as activities that aim to undermine the nation’s security or constitutional order, or glorify terrorism or racism, as well as calling for others to do so. The vagueness of the phrasing and the scope of offenses that fall under the extremism clause allow for the prosecution of a wide range of people, from those who set up an extremist cell or display Nazi symbols to anyone who writes something online that could be deemed a danger to the state. In the end, it’s up to the court to decide whether a social media post poses a danger to the nation or not.

You can read the full report here.

Alleged Blasphemy Riot Claims Four in Nigeria

At least four people were killed in central Nigeria this week in violence over an alleged blasphemy by a Christian trader against the Prophet Mohammed, according to news reports. The  Agence France-Presse reports based on resident testimony:

Abdullahi Sallau said a Muslim mob killed one person on Sunday and three on Monday in the town of Pandogari in Niger state “following blasphemous remarks by a Christian against the Prophet”.

One of those killed was Methodus Chimaije Emmanuel, the 24-year-old who posted comments on his Facebook page, said Sallau, who lives in the town. His account was supported by another local.

Emmanuel, whose parents were from Nigeria’s mainly Christian south but who was born and raised in Pandogari, had gone into hiding following the post but was found.

“The crowd took the law into their hands and mobbed him to death despite the revulsion expressed by his parents over the online comments,” said Misbahu Malami, who lives locally.

You can read AFP’s full article here. You can read additional coverage of this news story here.

Oppression of Pakistani Christians

Writing in the Daily Times, Nasir Saeed details the disturbing oppression of Christian in Paskistan, calling on the government of Pakistan, politicians, the judiciary, and religious leaders to” take responsibility to stop vigilante justice and the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy law”:

Unfortunately, Christians are under a constant threat because of continuous misuse of the blasphemy law against them. Over a petty dispute anyone can accuse another person of blasphemy, without thinking of consequences that are often devastating. We have seen several dreadful instances of this in the past. There is a long list of such atrocities, but to mention a few there are a few that stand out in their enormity of the injustice that was done to Christians. Never can be forgotten the horror of Sanglahill, Joseph colony, Korian and Gojra, where apart from destruction of churches and houses, eight Christians, including children, were burnt alive. Who can forget the Christian couple Shama and Shahzad who in 2015 were killed and then burnt in a brick kiln furnace over unproven charges of blasphemy?

There has been no evidence in any case that anyone had actually committed blasphemy. Nobody has ever been questioned with regard to making false blasphemy claims. This not only encourages the perpetrators but also strengthens their belief that their faith permits them to ‘avenge’ blasphemy, that it is according to the teachings of Islam, and they are not committing any crime. Instead they see it as if they have performed their moral and religious duty in an Islamic state.

The blasphemy laws are written ambiguously and vaguely, and it is not clear what is considered blasphemous, and who will determine whether blasphemy has been committed or not. There is also a need to understand whether blasphemy — if the accusation is proven to be correct — has been committed inadvertently or intentionally. But unfortunately no such measures are ever taken into consideration even though they are important for a fair trial and for justice to be done. People have their own standards to consider blasphemy, and it could be anything that ‘offends’ the accuser. There are also several sections of the blasphemy law, and each section has a different penalty, but because of government’s lack of interest, people have taken the ‘duty of protecting religion’ upon themselves, and they have just one punishment for all offences: the death penalty. If the accused is caught by the so-called vigilantes of religion justice will be done there and then. And that happens despite the Supreme Court’s judgement that nobody has the authority to assume the role of a judge, jury and executioner in a case in which someone is accused of blasphemy.

You can read the full article here.

Rampant Religious Persecution Against Atheists

Robert P. George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and Hannah Rosenthal, a USCIRF commissioner, have penned an op-ed for the USA Today detailing  various examples of state persecution of atheists and calling on countries to stop criminalizing the act of denying the existence of God:

In the Russian city of Stavropol, Viktor Krasnov, a 38-year-old man, faces trial, charged with publicly insulting Orthodox Church believers by supporting atheism in social media. For proclaiming in a heated Internet exchange “there is no God,” Krasnov was confined for a month to a local hospital for psychiatric evaluation. If convicted under Russia’s blasphemy law, enacted in 2013 and making it illegal to “insult the religious convictions or feelings of citizens,” he may spend up to a year in prison.

During the Soviet era, Russia infamously held people in psychiatric wards and put them on trial, not for denying a deity, but affirming one. Either way, such punishment violates the universal human right of freedom of religion or belief. This fundamental liberty includes the right to believe or not to believe and live one’s life accordingly.

Russia, however, is not the only country where atheists face punishment. As noted in country chapters of its Annual Report, released on Monday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), on which we serve, has found no shortage of nations that perpetrate or permit their persecution. It is time for our country to shine a powerful spotlight on these abuses.

George and Rosenthal continue:

Simply stated, societies that fail to protect the right to freedom of conscience of atheists rarely stop there.

It is time to send a message to every nation: Persecution of atheists and theists alike is equally reprehensible and must be condemned. Religious freedom is the precious birthright of humanity and must be honored and upheld for believers and skeptics alike.

You can read the full article here.

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The Campaign for Free Expression is an initiative of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) to focus the public's attention and efforts on one of the most basic and foundational human rights: the freedom to express yourself. We hope you join us.