For Immediate Release: September 25, 2012
New York City – Human Rights First welcomes President Obama’s forthright defense of freedom of expression in his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly. The organization notes that United States should continue in its efforts to prevent the adoption of a global standard outlawing blasphemy and defamation of religions, as well as encourage governments to remove or reform such laws where they exist at the national level.
“Laws that seek to criminalize offensive speech allow extremists to set the limits of permitted discourse and result in restrictions on freedom of speech and denial of freedom of religion,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks.
Human Rights First notes that governments should resist calls for a global anti-blasphemy code or other measures ostensibly designed 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 Mohamed.
Hicks notes, “As we can see in countries like Pakistan and Indonesia, blasphemy laws are used to persecute vulnerable religious minorities. In today’s interconnected world, a global ban on offensive speech is unenforceable. One has to question the motives of those, like the Prime Minister of Pakistan, who call for the adoption of such a measure. All too often such calls pander to extremists or score cheap political points by allowing the speaker to appear anti-Western or anti-American.”
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.