Blasphemy laws are still common around the world
ALL OVER the world, people are being attacked, imprisoned, tortured and occasionally executed on the grounds that they have said or done something which offends somebody else’s religious belief. Usually it is the state which punishes such acts of blasphemy, though often violent mobs make it their business, and the two forms of retribution cannot fully be separated. That is the gloomy picture painted by a new report on blasphemy laws by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan body charged by both Congress and the president with monitoring liberty of conscience across the world.
The study, which analysed 674 cases of state enforcement of criminal blasphemy laws between 2014 and 2018, found that the great majority were carried out by just ten countries: in descending order, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Yemen, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Of these, all except Russia and India are countries where Islam (or at least monotheism, in Indonesia) is entrenched in the political system and followed by the great majority of people. These two outliers are a reminder that the harsh use of blasphemy laws is not confined to the Islamic world. In theory the Russian and Indian constitutions are religiously neutral, but in practice each has a preponderant faith (respectively Orthodox Christianity and Hinduism), and both religious minorities and secularists complain of discrimination. Russia has arrested scores of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as followers of mystical Islamic movements.
Pakistan alone accounted for a quarter of the cases of state enforcement and nearly half the incidents of mob violence against perceived blasphemers. Vengeful crowds were also on the march in Bangladesh, Egypt and Nigeria. Sometimes state authorities use the anger of the mob as an excuse for their own acts of repression, the report adds. For example, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Mauritania’s former president, justified the detention of a sacrilegious blogger between 2014 and 2019 on grounds that “millions of people” wanted to see him executed and his safety was at risk.
The report was warmly received in the American Congress, where the House of Representatives voted almost unanimously on December 7th to put the repeal of blasphemy laws higher on the foreign-policy agenda. Lawmakers urged the White House and State Department to “make the repeal of blasphemy, heresy and apostasy laws a priority” in relations between the United States and religiously repressive countries. Many a jaded diplomat will retort that religious freedom is only one of many topics that America needs to broach with the ten countries named as the worst offenders.
Author: | Post link: https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/12/14/blasphemy-laws-are-still-common-around-the-world
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