Blasphemy! The dangers of speaking out

To those who don’t believe in a higher power, the notion of blasphemy seems frivolous and ridiculous. But for tens of millions of people around the world, blasphemy is a crime with potentially harsh punishments, including death. Anti-blasphemy laws exist in 32 countries, and 87 nations have hate speech laws that include defamation of religion and public expression of hate against a religious group.

Charges dropped over Stephen Fry’s comments

Police in Ireland have dropped charges against British comedian Stephen Fry for blasphemy.

In 2015, Fry appeared on an Irish television program called “The Meaning of Life,” where he made comments that disparaged God, and a viewer of the program lodged a formal complaint.

Asked what he would say if he was confronted by God after his death, Fry replied: “I would say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault?’ It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? Because the God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac. Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of God would do that?”

The Republic of Ireland has a blasphemy law that comes with the punishment of a potentially massive fine (up to roughly $38,000), but Ireland has never prosecuted anyone under that new law.

Christians convicted for blasphemy against Islam

Indonesia and Pakistan have taken legal actions against two Christians, including the governor of Jakarta, for the crime of blasphemy.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the governor, was given a two-year jail sentence after being found guilty of committing blasphemy. And in Pakistan, the blasphemy law was leveled against Zafar Bhatti.

In Jakarta, the trial of the governor was seen as a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia. The harsher-than-expected ruling is seen as a blow to religious tolerance in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

The presiding judge told the court that Purnama was “convincingly guilty of committing blasphemy.”

The case originated in a September 2016 speech in which the governor encouraged voters not to be dissuaded from voting for him in the February 2017 election because the Quran tells Muslims not to align with Christians or Jews.

NBC News reported that an incorrectly subtitled video of his comments later went viral, helping to spark huge demonstrations that ultimately resulted in him being bought to trial.

Purnama’s lead in the polls shrank, and he lost the race to a Muslim challenger.

In Pakistan, the 2012 case ended in a sentence of life imprisonment for Bhatti. A court in Rawalpindi sentenced the man May 3 for having sent text messages from his cellphone that allegedly insulted Islam. Bhatti denied the charges and explained that the phone card had not been activated by him. Bhatti is planning to appeal the decision.

Saudi Arabia sentences man to death for apostasy

A man has been sentenced to death on charges of apostasy in Saudi Arabia after losing two appeals.

Ahmad Al Shamri, in his 20s, in 2014 allegedly uploaded videos to social media in which he renounced Islam and the Prophet Mohammad.

In February 2015, he was sentenced to death after being arrested on charges of atheism and blasphemy, held in prison and convicted by a local court.

A Supreme Court ruled against him after he reportedly lost an appeals court case.

FFRF has appealed to the U.S. State Department to help save Al Shamri’s life. A series of royal decrees under the then-King Abdullah in 2014 redefined atheists as terrorists, according to Human Rights Watch.

One citizen was last year sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing atheistic sentiment in hundreds of social media posts.

Millions of Pakistanis receive warning texts

Millions of Pakistanis received text messages from the government warning them against sharing “blasphemous” content online.

It comes amid a surge in mob violence linked to accusations of insulting Islam, including three attacks within the past month. Rights activists say the texts would only encourage more vigilante attacks.

“Uploading & sharing of blasphemous content on Internet is a punishable offense under the law. Such content should be reported on [email protected] for legal action,” read the text sent by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to all mobile phone subscribers.

A similar note was posted on the agency’s website in Urdu. A PTA spokesman said the agency was acting on a court order.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Muslim Pakistan, with unproven allegations leading to dozens of attacks since 1990.

L.A. Times editorial:

Affront to free speech

The L.A. Times ran an editorial condemning blasphemy laws. Here are some excerpts:

“British writer and actor Stephen Fry is breathing easier after officials in Ireland announced that they wouldn’t charge him for violating that nation’s blasphemy law for saying in a 2015 television interview that God, if he existed, was ‘quite clearly a maniac.’

“But the police had investigated Fry under the law, which, far from being a relic, was enacted in 2009. The law makes it illegal to utter or publish any material ‘grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion’ in which the intent and result is ‘outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.’

“That language echoes a resolution passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010 calling on nations to ‘combat defamation of all religions.’

“Fortunately, more recent pronouncements by the U.N. have shown a greater appreciation for the importance of freedom of speech even while condemning behavior that is intolerant of religion. Yet many nations still have blasphemy laws on the books.

“These laws should be repealed, even if they were enacted not for the traditional reason — to show reverence to a deity — but for the supposedly more progressive purpose of sparing the sensitivities of believers, including members of minority faiths.

“Redefining blasphemy laws as laws against ‘hate speech’ don’t make them any more acceptable or any less susceptible to abuse and selective enforcement.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation