On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the permanent delegation of the International Association of Free Thought (AILP-IAFT) to the UN Human Rights Council wishes to remind the following facts:
Considering articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration,
“Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (…)
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.”
At an international level, the Free Thought has always been very mobilized to face attack of any kind against freedom of opinion and expression.
Here are some examples:
– In Pakistan, Dr Younus Shaikh, accused of blasphemy, was sentenced to death in 2001 before being able to take refuge in Europe thanks to an international solidarity campaign. He spent more than three years on death row.
– In Nigeria, the humanist and secular activist Leo Igwe was repeatedly arrested and brutalized by the police for defending those accused of “witchcraft”.
– In Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian mother, is on 8 November 2010 sentenced to death by hanging after being convinced of blasphemy and two politicians who supported her were murdered.
– In Saudi Arabia, the blogger Ralf Badawi was sentenced in second instance, in June, 2013, to 7 years in prison, 600 lashes and a fine of 1 million Rials for “insulting Islam”.
– In India, Gauri Lankesh, a famous journalist, figure of the struggle of rationalism against the caste system, was assassinated by bullets on September 6, 2017, by a commando who showed up at his home in Bangalore, capital of Karnataka.
– In Bangladesh, Shahjahan Bachchu, an editor aged 55 years and a rationalist figure of the struggle for secularism and freedom of expression, was assassinated by bullets on June 10, 2018, by a commando of motorcyclists in the village of Kakaldi (Munshiganj District).
The permanent delegation of the International Association of Free Thought (AILP-IAFT) to the UN Human Rights Council reminds:
- In November, 2012, on the initiative of the European Coordination Bureau of Freethought (ECBF), 55 secular, humanist, atheist and free-thinking associations all over Europe had publicly addressed the European Union, which, through its High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms. Catherine Ashton, had decided to sign a joint statement with the Islamic Conference Organization, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and the President of the African Union Commission, declaring : “ We believe in the importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong..”
- Following the Irish referendum of Friday, October 26, 2018, won with 64,85% of the votes, the delegation of AILP-IAFT welcomes the repeal of the article 40.6.1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland which punished blasphemy with a EUR 25,000 fine reading: “ The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” For the record, this provision dating from 1937 had been confirmed and amplified by the adoption of the law on defamation which came into effect on January 1, 201.As Michael Nugent, head of Atheist Ireland and member of the AILP-IAFT International Council, noted at that time: “Medieval religious laws have no place in a modern, secular republic where laws should protect people and not ideas.
- It was not until June 2, 2017, that the Kingdom of Denmark repealed the crime of blasphemy. Article 140 of the Danish Criminal Code on blasphemy provided for up to four months’ imprisonment for “[a]ny person who, in public, ridicules or insults the doctrines or worship of any lawfully existing religious community”.
- it was not until May 8, 2008 that this “crime” disappeared, by an amendment on the initiative of a Member of Parliament, Dr. Evan Harris, to the bill on justice and immigration presented by the government, adopted by the United Kingdom Parliament.
After 140 years of tireless struggle, the National Secular Society, which is the Free Thought Society in Britain, finally obtained the abolition of this medieval law that Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the NSS and spokesman for the AILP-IAFT describes as follows:
“Crime and offence of blasphemy have existed in Britain and Wales for more than 300 years as a customary offence (i.e. a crime that has not been defined by the Parliament and which does not appear in the Book of Laws but which was invented and developed by the judges).”
The delegation of AILP-IAFT also wishes to remind that:
- a law of 1930 prohibits blasphemy in Norway,
- in Iceland, the existing “blasphemy” law, which dates back to 1940, is an integral part of the Penal Code (Parliament Law No. 19/1940 – Article 125),
- in Finland, chapter 17, section 10 of the Criminal Code punishes to a fine or to imprisonment for at most six months anyone who “publicly blasphemes against God”,
- article 251 of the penal Code of Portugal of 1995 provides: “Anyone who publicly offends or derides a person because of his religious belief or function, in a way adequate to breach the peace, is punishable with imprisonment up to 1 year or a fine up to 120 days”.
Though not exhaustive, this list of laws, still in force 70 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration, unambiguously indicate that if progress has been made towards the full acquisition of democratic freedoms, long and painful efforts will be still necessary to complete the work of the authentic human rights defenders.
The AILP-IAFT delegation,
Besson Philippe – Eyschen Christian – Godicheau Michel – Gozlan David – Laubary-Besson Christine – Lepeix Roger – Midavaine Sylvie
Paris, 22 November 2018