For Immediate Release: May 23, 2013
New York City – Human Rights First condemns the sentencing of Turkish-Armenian author Sevan Nisanyan to thirteen months in prison for “insulting the religious beliefs held by a section of society.” Nisanvan was convicted under Turkey’s anti-blasphemy statutes for a blog he wrote last September.
“The Turkish judiciary is using prison sentences to intimidate those who express their views peacefully,” said Human Rights First’s Joelle Fiss. “This is a worrisome trend. Punishing people for expressing their opinions violates international law and and has adverse consequences. Nisanvan’s conviction should be overturned on appeal.”
In the offending blog post, Nisanvan wrote, referring to the Prophet Mohamed, “Ridiculing with an Arab leader who claimed to have contacted God and gained political, financial and sexual gains from it. This is kindergarten level example of expression freedom.” According to local press, the sentence cannot be converted to a financial penalty, but the verdict is open for appeal.
The blasphemy case comes just one month after the Turkish pianist Fazil Say was handed a suspended 10-month prison sentence for “openly denigrating Islam” in a series of Tweets.
Anti-blasphemy laws forbid the criticism or insult of religion, or any perceived contempt of religion. In many countries, including Turkey, alleged blasphemers may be sentenced to prison terms for expressing non-violent opinions. Such laws are a tool for suppressing freedom of speech.
In March 2012, Human Rights First issued an update to its 2011 report Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions,” which documented more than 100 recent cases from 18 countries that demonstrate the gross abuses that arise from the application of national blasphemy laws. The organization notes that blasphemy laws are frequently used to stifle debate and dissent, harass rivals, and settle petty disputes among neighbors, business partners and political adversaries. Increasingly, these laws also trigger violence.
For more information, or to speak with Fiss, contact Brenda Bowser Soder at BowserSoderB@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.