Blasphemy laws are an affront to human rights

Freedom of thought and freedom of expression are two fundamental rights that every human being has. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in recognizing these rights, declares:

Article 18.

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Despite this, countries like Pakistan stifle freedom of expression through so-called blasphemy laws. In Pakistan, these laws criminalize

[…] the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for deities, to religious or holy persons or things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.

A Christian woman accused of blasphemy four years ago has had her death sentence upheld by the Lahore High Court (LHC):

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday upheld the death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy four years ago, as her lawyers vowed to appeal.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five, has been on death rowsince November 2010 after she was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) during an argument with a Muslim woman.

“A two-judge bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal of Asia Bibi but we will file an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” her lawyer Shakir Chaudhry told AFP.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where 97 per cent of the population is Muslim and unproven claims regularly lead to mob violence.

Two high-profile politicians – then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti – were murdered in 2011 after calling for reforms to the blasphemy law and describing Bibi’s trial as flawed.

The blasphemy allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009.

She was working in a field when she was asked to fetch water. Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.

A few days later the women went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations.

They’re going to put her to death for touching a bowl. I don’t support the death penalty for anything, but at least in the case of murderers, I can see the logical chain of reasoning.  “Ted Bundy killed X number of people and to prevent him from doing so again, we will put him to death.”  Asia Bibi harmed NO ONE. She went to touch a fucking bowl for fuck’s sake.  Aside from the fact that there are rules about who can and cannot touch a damn bowl, it’s also beyond asinine that someone who is not even Muslim must adhere to the rules of Islam. That’s massively oppressive of both Muslims and non-Muslims.

One problem with blasphemy laws, as seen in the case of Asia Bibi, is that every citizen of a country is accountable under those laws.  Even if you don’t follow the dominant religion in a country, you still have to abide by rules such as “don’t offend the prophet”. That does not allow people to believe as they choose, nor does it allow people to express themselves as they choose (and to be clear, I don’t believe in an absolute right to freedom of expression; inciting others to violence should not be protected speech, but in that case, it’s because there is demonstrable harm that will likely result; no such harm is present in burning a Bible or “blaspheming” the prophet).

Another issue is that blasphemy laws fly in the face of the right to expression. They hold religion to be more important than humans. They treat objects, books, or things as more valuable than actual people. Blasphemy laws inhibit freedom of speech and expression and actively contribute to oppressing people. It’s clear that countries with blasphemy laws do not value free and open discourse.  Whether political, religious, scientific, or economic, all ideas must be free to be discussed otherwise no one is truly free. Religious beliefs should not be considered above reproach. Religious beliefs should not have rights, but to make “offending” religion a crime means that religious beliefs-ideas-have rights.

No. They do not.

People have rights. Living, breathing people. Religious beliefs cannot be harmed. People can be. Yes, people may be offended by someone expressing their opinion of their religion, such as when I criticize Hinduism, Scientology, or Mormonism.  For all that people’s feelings might be hurt, they themselves are not. Blasphemy laws, on the other hand, often lead to demonstrable harm, up to and including death. Human rights are what are under discussion and what are important (not to mention, such silliness as “you’ve offended the prophet” is patently ridiculous; aside from the fact that there’s no evidence that he existed, even if he did, he’s dead-you can’t offend a dead person).

Without blasphemy laws, the free and open exchange of ideas, a right all human beings possess, allows people to openly criticize political, social, economic, and yes, religious beliefs. This may offend some people, but it does not cause tangible, measurable harm. Contrast that with countries that execute people over blasphemy. Having your feelings hurt vs. being murdered. Which one causes more harm?

End blasphemy laws.

You can read more on blasphemy laws here and here.

Blasphemy laws are an affront to human rights

One thought on “Blasphemy laws are an affront to human rights

  1. 1

    Thank you, Tony for blogging about this.

    I sent this message to the Pakistan Supreme Court. I do not know if it will make a difference. But if there are other small voices like mine out there doing the same, maybe it will.

    To the Honourable Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk and to the Honourable Justices of the Supreme Court of Pakistan:

    Dear Sirs,

    I am writing to you in the hope that the government of Pakistan may be moved to pardon Asia Bibi, the woman currently on death row for the crime of blasphemy. She was sentenced by a court in central Punjab in 2010 and has been on death row since. It pained me greatly to find out that the Lahore High Court has dismissed her appeal and upheld the death sentence. I understand that her appeal is forthcoming to the Supreme Court.

    I am writing to you in the hope that, being fellow human beings to both myself and to Ms. Bibi, you will understand that she has committed no harm to anyone and thus does not deserve a punishment. We humans – all of us, no matter the race, religion, or gender – have the capacity to oppress and harm, but we also have great capacity for kindness and empathy.

    I implore you to please imagine what Ms. Bibi is experiencing right now, this very moment. Ask yourself who she has harmed? Did she hurt a living, breathing human being? Did she violate anyone’s rights or well-being? A crime must have a victim. Some violation must have been done to a person or a living, feeling being in order for there to be a crime. Ms. Bibi committed no such violation and yet she is being punished in the most severe of ways. If you can honestly answer the above questions, you will no doubt arrive at the conclusion that it is Ms. Bibi who is the victim here.

    Please join me in speaking up against this injustice. Please save Ms. Bibi’s life. You will be doing a very important part in creating a Pakistan that is just and safe for all people. You will not just be helping Ms. Bibi, you will be taking a crucial step in setting a very humane precedent that will help save countless other innocent lives in the future. I write to you because I alone can’t do this. My voice is small, but yours is not.

    I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading this message. I am hopeful that it will have made a difference.

    Sincerely and with warm regards,


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