Panayote Dimitras (right) at the OSCE meeting
on Freedom of Expression on 22 June 2020 (left)
Statement submitted by the European Humanist Federation at the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) II on Freedom of Expression, Media and Information
(Online event 22-23 June 2020)
“Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” as stated in the 2011 UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 34 on Article 19: Freedoms of opinion and expression.
Yet, in many countries around the world, “blasphemy” and “religious insult” are still crimes that can lead to prison or death. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France in January 2015 the European Humanist Federation (EHF) and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) -now called Humanists International– launched the campaign “End Blasphemy Laws” aiming at repealing blasphemy and related laws worldwide. The campaign is run by the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws which gather many international and national organizations. With this campaign, the EHF has also focused on the persistent blasphemy laws existing in European countries and has been campaigning for their removal at European level.
EHF therefore welcomes the abolition of anti-blasphemy laws in Greece and in Ireland in 2019.
However, there are still 21 European states (Andorra, Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lichtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, San Marino, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan) as well as Scotland and Northern Ireland with anti-blasphemy laws in their legal arsenal, almost one-third of the world total of 69 states with such laws. In several of them, such laws have in recent years led to convictions and sometimes prison sentences for persons who have criticized in the media established religions (but, characteristically, never minority religions).
Moreover, however light the sentences maybe in most such European countries, the existence of such laws makes it difficult for them and for the international community more generally to advocate for the abolition of anti-blasphemy laws in non-European countries, where in fact sentences are much harsher.
It is therefore high time that these European countries, starting with those which are also EU member states, promptly abolish all legislation criminalizing blasphemy and defamation of religion that violate freedom of expression which is a fundamental right that must be upheld by any state that wants to be respected when it calls itself democratic.