Monday, February 06, 2012

Criminal blasphemy laws

By Mathew Goldstein

Human Rights First’s 2011 report, Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions,” documents over 100 incidents from 18 countries. They include "Outbreaks of Mob Violence as a Direct Consequence of Blasphemy Laws" in their count of blasphemy law incidents. Their report cites over 40 incidents in Pakistan. Other countries with governments that are cited for abusing their power by making criticism of religious beliefs a punishable offense are Kuwait, Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, India, Sri-Lanka, Palestinian Authority, and Algeria. There are also a few Christian majority countries cited for imposing fines: Austria fined a citizen for asserting that Islam's prophet Muhammed would today be considered a pedophile for marrying a six year old and Poland fined a citizen (a popular singer) for characterizing the authors of the bible as writing as if they were intoxicated by alcohol and marijuana.

One of the victims is an atheist. Walid Husayin was arrested in Oct 2010 for his criticisms of theism on Facebook and in his blog posts. He correctly observed that all religions are "a bunch of mind-blowing legends and a pile of nonsense that compete with each other in terms of stupidity". At its peak, Husayin's psuedonymous Arabic-language blog had more than 70,000 visitors. He also posted English language translations of his essays in the blog "Proud Atheist". His lawyer asserts "there are limits to freedom of speech" and that he faces a sentence of up to three years, although the law actually has a maximum penalty of life in prison. Public opinion in his home town appears to be universally against him, with some residents calling for his death. His own family expresses shame. Several months after his arrest, Husayin apologized for offending Muslims and characterized his Internet writings as " stupidity".

He remains in prison more than a year after his arrest with no trial and no end to his detention in sight. France, to it's credit, dared to go so far as to publically express "concern" after his arrest. Apparently worried about their own credibility with public opinion in the Islamic world, the United States and other countries have not commented publically about this incident. Will Western countries find their voice if he is convicted or if his detention continues indefinitely without trial?

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