IBRD 2016: Put Blasphemy Laws on the 2016 Campaign Radar

Note: this is the first in a series of five posts leading up to, and marking, International Blasphemy Rights Day on September 30.

Tonight, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off in the first presidential debate of the 2016 campaign. Moderator Lester Holt, of NBC Nightly News, is expected to raise a number of issues with the candidates — taxes, health care, foreign policy, all the things we expect. However, neither Holt nor the candidates are expected to raise the issue that we are highlighting this week, an issue that chokes off the right to free expression and destroys the lives of those who speak out. We’re talking, of course, about blasphemy laws.

The United States has relations with many governments around the world that criminalize criticism of religious ideas, and relations with many more that are in a position to pressure such governments. Yet many countries continue to jail individuals for blasphemy, or else passively look on while individuals accused of blasphemy are persecuted, attacked, or killed, with no sign of change. Is the U.S. government really doing all it can to push for the end of blasphemy laws?

You can help try to put this issue on the presidential campaign radar tonight by tweeting tough questions about blasphemy laws with the International Blasphemy Rights Day (IBRD) and presidential debate hashtags.

Here are two sample Tweets:

“Do you think the U.S. government has adequately addressed blasphemy laws? What would you do differently?” #blasphemyday #HofDebate16

“What kind of pressure should the US put on countries that criminalize blasphemy?”  #blasphemyday #HofDebate16

With your help, we can raise this issue’s profile by putting blasphemy laws and the struggle for free expression into the mainstream conversation — whether the candidates and the major networks address them or not. Their silence could speak volumes.
You can learn more about International Blasphemy Rights Day and the Campaign for Free Expression here. And be sure to come back here tomorrow for more on the fight for free expression.

Pakistani Christian Jailed for Blasphemy Over Facebook Like

As reported by the Associated Press:

Pakistani police say they have arrested a 16-year-old Christian boy on blasphemy charges after he “liked” an “inappropriate” photograph on Facebook of the Kaaba in Mecca, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

Senior police official Akhtar Ansari said Wednesday the arrest was made this week in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province.

He says police have sent the boy to jail pending trial.

Ansari says police made the arrest after being alerted of the Facebook post by a Muslim, who said he found it insulting.

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam can be sentenced to death. However the laws are also sometimes used to settle personal scores and target minorities.

You can read more on the story here and here.

UN Committee Insists on Revocation of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

Vatican Radio reports that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has urged Pakistan to revoke its draconian blasphemy law. From the article:

The commission based in Geneva, in its periodic report on Pakistan released on August 26, stated that misuse of blasphemy laws is surging in the heavily Islamic country.

The Commission based in Geneva “takes note of the state’s efforts to prevent the abuse of blasphemy laws”, but also expresses concern about “efforts for the broad and vague definition of crimes against religion under articles of the law”, which consists of some articles of the penal Code of Pakistan, and notes “the disproportionate use of those laws against individuals belonging to ethnic and religious minorities”.

The UN Committee in its report, expressed concerns relating “the high number of blasphemy cases based on false accusations with no related investigations and prosecutions, the judges who judge cases of blasphemy face intimidation, death threats and murders.”

You can read the full article here.

Turkish Pianist Fazıl Say Acquitted of Blasphemy Charges

The Hurriyet Daily News reports on some welcome news out of Turkey:

World-renowned Turkish pianist Fazıl Say was acquitted of blasphemy charges on Sept. 7, four years after being sentenced to a suspended jail term after sharing a post on his Twitter account.

An Istanbul court ordered Say’s acquittal on charges of “insulting religious beliefs held by a section of society” for retweeting several lines attributed to the 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam in 2012.

In a post on his Instagram account after the four-year judicial struggle, Say thanked and congratulated his lawyer Meltem Akyol.

He had received a suspended 10-month prison sentence in April 2013 for retweeting Khayyam’s lines after three people filed a criminal complaint to the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office, accusing him of blasphemy. …

Among the lines attributed to Khayyam that Say retweeted was: “You say its rivers will flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house?”

You can read the full article here.

10 Years Jail, 2,000 Lashes for Saudi Man Who Said He Is an Atheist

Al-Masdar News reports:

A Saudi court has sentenced a 28-year old man to ten years prison, 2,000 lashes and a fine around $5000 for tweeting that he was an atheist.

The man had refused to repent and expressed his beliefs that he had a right to express them.

A law that defines atheism as “terrorism” is what he was charged under.

Article one of the law defined terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.

You can read the 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.