For Immediate Release: September 24, 2012
New York City – Tomorrow, as President Barack Obama delivers a speech before the United Nations General Assembly that will address many foreign policy challenges, Human Rights First urges him to reiterate U.S. support for peaceful democratic change in the Arab World. With the crisis in Syria continuing to mount, President Obama must lead the call for UN member states to work collectively toward a negotiated transition between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition, including through affirming U.S government support for inclusive regional peacemaking and mediation efforts underway. Following recent violent protests against a film denigrating the Prophet Mohamed, President Obama should also repeat the U.S. government’s condemnation of the gratuitously offensive film, while defending the United States’ commitment to freedom of expression and emphasizing that violence is never an acceptable response to offensive speech.
Human Rights First notes that governments should resist calls for a global anti-blasphemy code or other measures ostensibly deigned to protect religion from defamatory speech. Blasphemy laws at the national level are too easily abused by extremists to persecute religious minorities and to impose ever more restrictive interpretations of religion on the society as a whole. Just last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf called for a global ban on insulting the Prophet.
“In today’s world, where any individual with an Internet connection can post offensive material at the touch of a button such a ban would be unenforceable. Fueling the idea that self-appointed groups who characterize themselves as defenders of one faith or another have the right not be offended is misguided,” Hicks noted. “President Obama should continue to oppose efforts to create a global anti-blasphemy standard and to step up U.S. efforts to push back against blasphemy laws at the national and international level.”
More for more information on blasphemy laws see Human Rights First’s report, Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions.” To speak with Hicks, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-370-3323.