In some countries blasphemy is a very sensitive topic and often leads to riots and violence, like in Islamabad, Pakistan, in November 2017.(Photo: World Watch Monitor)
In Pakistan, blasphemy accusations often leads to riots, like this one in Islamabad in November 2017.(Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Blasphemy laws are “dangerous” and should be “eliminated”, the chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) told Newsweek yesterday on International Blasphemy Day.

The freedom to criticise or mock religion should not be decided by governments and their interpretation of laws, said Dr. Tenzin Dorjee. And it would be best to eliminate blasphemy laws altogether, he told the American magazine.

“By making governments the arbiters of truth and religious doctrines, blasphemy laws are ripe for abuse by authorities to use against citizens who may articulate minority or dissenting views,” Dorjee said.

“Even in countries that are not using these laws against individuals exercising their rights to freedom of religion and expression, they must be eliminated. Ireland’s upcoming referendum to remove the offense of blasphemy from their constitution is an example other countries can follow in eliminating these dangerous laws.”

USCIRF, in a report in October last year, called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to repeal blasphemy laws, release prisoners of conscience and strengthen interfaith relationships.

Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), said at the time that states that have blasphemy laws “should repeal them because of their stifling impact on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief, and on the ability to engage in a healthy dialogue about religion”.

The UN Human Rights Council, in a resolution adopted in September last year, called on UN member states that still have the death penalty to, among other things, “ensure that it is not imposed as a sanction for specific forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations”.

Meanwhile, dozens of Pakistani Christians gathered outside the UN offices in Geneva, Switzerland, last week with placards that read “Save Pakistani Christians” and “Stop targeting Christians in Pakistan”, UCAN reports.

The protesters called on the UN to pressure Pakistan into repealing its blasphemy laws, which are the toughest in the world and are used disproportionately against members of religious minorities.