Do you want to better understand the international basis for the right to freedom of expression? Or, are you looking for insight on which countries continue to use laws to restrict free expression? Look no further!
International Standards on Freedom of Expression
Despite what many people and governments would have us believe, the right to freedom of expression, including the right to blaspheme, is protected as universal by several important international documents and agreements. These include:
- The 1948 United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 19 that “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.”
- The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a binding international treaty, which similarly states in its Article 19 that “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference,” and that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
- The 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which states in Article 5 that all signatories must protect “The right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
- The 2011 General Comment 34 by the UN Human Rights Committee, which tracks and interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and which states in Paragraph 48 that “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant … Thus, for instance, it would be impermissible for any such laws to discriminate in favour of or against one or certain religions or belief systems, or their adherents over another, or religious believers over non-believers. Nor would it be permissible for such prohibitions to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.”
- The 2013 Rabat Plan of Action, drafted by human rights experts working at the UN, which cites the aforementioned documents and concludes that “States that have blasphemy laws should repeal these as such laws have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief and healthy dialogue and debate about religion.”
Freedom of Thought Report
In recognition of Human Rights Day, our colleagues at the International Humanist and Ethical Union on December 10 each year release a report that details laws around the world which serve to restrict the rights to freedom of belief and expression, and instances of nonreligious persons facing discrimination and persecution. The report is produced with support from a number of secularist, humanist, and atheist organizations, including the Center for Inquiry.
International Religious Freedom Report
The annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom (or, the International Religious Freedom Report) describes the status of religious freedom in every country. The report covers government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. The U.S. Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Annual Report
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief assesses the U.S. government’s implementation of IRFA; recommends countries that the Secretary of State should designate as “Countries of Particular Concern” for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom;” documents country conditions in around 30 countries; reports on significant trends; and recommends U.S. policies.
Pew Research Center Report on Trends in Global Restrictions on Religion
The Pew Research Center conducts an annual study of 198 countries that details both government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion. The latest report found that roughly three-quarters of the world’s 7.2 billion people were living in countries with high or very high restrictions or hostilities.
Anti-Blasphemy Offensives in the Digital Age: When Hardliners Take Over
In this report, human rights researcher Joelle Fiss discusses incidents where users have been accused of “blasphemous” posts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and persecuted for it — including cases from Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Fiss then analyzes the toll of blasphemy laws on sectarian violence and broader international relations, examines the debate over censorship and surveillance within the corporate decision-making process, and offers recommendations to social media companies and the U.S. government on how best to oppose blasphemy laws in a broader effort to curb extremism and to promote democratic reform.
International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws
The International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws and brings together individual people and organizations that share the same goal: campaigning to repeal “blasphemy” and related laws worldwide. The Coalition operates the End Blasphemy Laws Campaign, the website of which provides arguments against blasphemy laws and updates on blasphemy law repeals and prosecutions.