Thursday, April 28, 2011

IHEU condemns blasphemy laws in Africa

Says it’s incompatible with basic human rights
The International Humanist Ethical Union (IHEU) has said that it will draw the attention of all stakeholders on human rights in the region to the existence of blasphemy laws in the penal codes of state parties to the African Charter and the threat it poses to the promotion and protection of human rights.
Blasphemy laws criminalize ant act that is interpreted as “an insult to a religion” and the punishment for that is long imprisonment or death in some states.

However, IHEU’s representative to the NGOs Forum and the 49th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Leo Igwe argued that blasphemy laws are incompatible with basic human rights including freedom of religion or belief, free expression, the rights of minorities and the right to life.
Though these laws appear to protect religion from insult, Igwe believes that they are the greatest obstacle to freedom of religion or belief, arguing that these laws do not define what “insult to a religion” means and the clause is subject to so many interpretations and abuse.
According to him, the clause is often taken to mean “insult to the dominant religion(s), which in Africa are Christianity and Islam. The laws discriminate against those who profess other religions or belief.
“Freedom of religion entails freedom to profess a religion or to change one’s religion or to hold non-religious views, but blasphemy laws often targets religious dissenters. They are used to clamp down on apostates, atheists, agnostics and freethinkers and those that hold views that are critical of a religion,” he said. 
Igwe is also of the believe that these laws give legitimacy to religious extremism and the criminal actions of fanatics who attack, torture, kill and maim anyone really or imagined to have insulted their religion.
Igwe added: “They have been used to persecute and prosecute religious critics and skeptics, including those who try to expose the absurdities of religions, the terror and the oppressive nature of religious dogmas and the hypocrisy, excesses, abuses, failures and shortcomings of religious authorities.”
He describes blasphemy laws as weapons for the oppression and persecution of religious minorities since they only protect the dominant religion(s), denying minorities their full rights to freedom of conscience and expression.
The IHEU said its is calling on all African States to abolish the blasphemy laws and urges them to take action for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of conscience, free expression, the right to life and those of the minorities.

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