Laws Penalizing Blasphemy, Apostasy and Defamation of Religion are Widespread

November 26, 2012

From the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:

In calendar year 2011, a total of 32 countries (16%) had laws penalizing blasphemy (remarks or actions considered to be contemptuous of God). Anti-blasphemy laws are particularly common in the Middle East and North Africa; 13 of the 20 countries in that region (65%) make blasphemy a crime. In the Asia-Pacific region, nine of the 50 countries (18%) had anti-blasphemy laws in 2011, while in Europe such laws were found in eight out of 45 countries (18%). Just two of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Nigeria and Somalia – had such laws as of 2011.

In 2011, a total of 20 countries across the globe prohibited apostasy (abandoning one’s faith, including by converting to another religion). Such measures were in effect in more than half the countries in the Middle East-North Africa region (11 of 20, or 55%) as well as in five of the 50 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (10%) and four of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (8%). Laws against apostasy were not present in any country in Europe or the Americas.

Laws against defamation of religion were far more common worldwide than laws against blasphemy and apostasy. As of 2011, 87 countries (44%) had a law, rule or policy at some level of government forbidding defamation of religion or hate speech against members of religious groups.

Laws against the defamation of religion were most common in Europe, where 36 of the region’s 45 countries (80%) had such laws or policies in 2011. In most of these countries, these laws tended to penalize religious hate speech rather than defamation of religion. In the Middle East and North Africa, by contrast,15 of the 20 countries (75%) had such laws and most tended to penalize defamation of religion while relatively few penalized religious hate speech directed at specific persons or groups.

In the three other major geographic regions covered in this analysis, a third or fewer countries had laws against the defamation of religion, including religious hate speech. Such laws were found in 17 of the 50 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (34%), 13 of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (27%) and six of the 35 countries in the Americas (17%), including Brazil and Canada.

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