Geneva, Switzerland — An atheist organization is petitioning the United Nations to reject proposals from Muslim nations to enact international blasphemy laws.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), which represents atheists in 45 countries around the world, recently sent a letter to the UN headquarters in an effort to draw attention to what they believe is an “assault against atheists and humanists” worldwide.
“[D]iscrimination [against atheists] comes in two forms,” the letter states. “Firstly, discrimination against non-religious communities through a nation’s constitution and/or legal system. For example, some governments outlaw the very existence of atheists, and others prosecute people who express their religious doubts or dissent regardless of whether those dissenters identify as atheist. Secondly, and more commonly, discrimination occurs against secular people when they manifest their conscience by acting against the dictates of the religion of their family, community or country.”
The organization also asserted that blasphemy laws are harmful to freedom of speech.
“Just as freedom of religion or belief protects the right of the individual to follow a religion, it also protects the right to reject any religion or belief, to identify as humanist or non-religious, and to manifest non-religious convictions through expression, teaching and practice,” it wrote. “Whilst this fundamental right includes the right not to reveal your beliefs or religious identification, and the right not to take part in religious ceremonies, it also includes the freedom to argue for those beliefs in public, and to seek to persuade others of the merits of your beliefs, or the flaws of theirs, through debate and criticism.”
IHEU noted that in nations such as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Maldives and Mauritania atheists can face the death penalty for their lack of belief.
“In several countries legal measures either effectively criminalize atheism, criminalize the expression and manifestation of atheist beliefs, or result in systematic discrimination against atheists and those who reject religion,” the letter outlined. “2012 saw prosecutions for allegedly atheist comments on Facebook and Twitter in Bangladesh, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey.”
The letter was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council as a number of Islamic groups and worldwide government leaders are calling upon the UN to criminalizing speech against religion.
“We condemn all sorts of incitement to hatred and religious discrimination against Muslims and people of other faiths,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the Council recently as he talked about what he called the “rising trend” of Islamophobia.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which is comprised of 57 nations, also noted that it is working on obtaining a consensus in creating laws against insulting religion.
The proposals are a continuance of talks that were especially prevalent last year following an uprising of offense against the amateur film “Innocence of Muslims.”
“Before I take up my speech, I want to express the strongest condemnation for the acts of incitement of hate against the faith of billions of Muslims of the world and our beloved Prophet,” announced Pakastani President Asif Ali Zardari ata UN General Assembly meeting last September. “Although we can never condone violence, the international community must not become silent observers and should criminalize such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger the world security by misusing freedom of expression.”
Afghanistanian President Hamid Karzai likewise told those present that America must resist Islamophobia.
“I call upon leaders in the West, both politicians and the media, to confront Islamophobia in all its many forms and manifestations,” he stated. “As we speak today, the world is shaken by the depravity of fanatics who have committed acts of insult against the faith of over 1.5 billion Muslims. … We strongly condemn these offensive acts, whether it involves the production of a film, the publication of cartoons, or indeed any other acts of insult and provocation.”
However, the IHEU says that it fears such propositions.
“[W]e urge the Human Rights Council to reject any suggestion of a conflict between Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; that is, between the rights of religion and the right to free speech,” its letter to the UN plead. “There is no such conflict: religions do not have human rights, individuals do – including the right to speak and the right to manifest their beliefs through religious criticism and persuasion. Only once this is acknowledged will we see an end to discrimination based on belief.”
Photo: Yann Forget