The week in “blasphemy” news #23

This week, there’s news of another possible “blasphemy” law repeal, this time in Malta. Meanwhile, in areas controlled by militant group ISIS, reports detail ongoing torture and executions, including of young children, for such supposed crimes as “blasphemy”.

In Sudan there’s news of possible death sentences for two “blasphemous” Christian pastors, while in Bangladesh the media has been muddying the water with alleged “disinformation” over the murder of atheist bloggers, and Bangladeshi Islamists have again marched demanding the death of a supposed “non-believer”. In Pakistan, Asia Bibi’s husband, in a tragic and heartfelt interview, talks about his love for his jailed wife, and the anti-blasphemy extremists threatening her life, even if she is ever released.

In cultural news, a Saudi satire on ISIS is branded “heresy” and gets death threats; and in India, a regional Zoroastrian organization is trying to ban a Snoop Dogg video.

This is the twenty-third of our weekly round-ups of blasphemy-related news and views.

Malta could be the third country in 2015 to abolish “blasphemy” law!


Could Malta join the club for free expression in 2015?

Both Norway and Iceland have abolished their “blasphemy” laws this year. Now, the perniciously overused “vilification of religion” law in Malta could be struck from the criminal code. Malta’s law is activey used, with hundreds of people have been detained under the quasi-“blasphemy” provisions in the past few years.

The proposal is one of several reforms on a number of freedom of expression issues, including a ban on so-called “revenge porn”, as well as “rationalising” the law on “obscenity” in general (tidying up some vague and outdated language, though also introducing new penalties on certain “extreme pornography”). Malta Today reports:

Minister for justice and culture Owen Bonnici has embarked on a far-reaching legal reform that will strike off criminal sanctions on the vilification of religion, bringing Maltese law in line with 21st century European laws.

In a package of laws that will fine-tune the Criminal Code, Bonnici will today present new amendments to remove laws that punish the vilification of the Roman Catholic religion “and other cults tolerated by law”, laws that have been in place since 1933.

…Articles 163 and 164 of the Criminal Code carry a maximum punishment of six months’ imprisonment for the vilification of the Catholic religion, and three months’ for the vilification of any other religion, when such vilification occurs “by words, gestures, written matter whether printed or not, or pictures”; or by giving offence by vilifying those who profess the religion, its ministers, of objects of worship.

Article 165, which carries a maximum of one year’s imprisonment for those who impede or disturb a Catholic ceremony or religious service will also be removed, but retained as a contravention affecting public order within the Criminal Code.

The Times of Malta reports on how humanists have welcomed the news:

The Malta Humanist Association has congratulated Justice Minister Owen Bonnici following his proposals to amend the Criminal Code to strike off sanctions against blasphemy which date back to 1933.

“Malta’s laws, while not carrying such inhumane penalties, have been used in the recent past to charge people for publishing articles, to prevent plays from being staged and to prosecute revellers in carnival costumes among other cases. In 2012 alone, 99 people were convicted under these blasphemy laws, while in the first half of 2011, 119 people were convicted,” the association said.

“There is no reason to hold religion to a different standard than any other ideology. People may feel as strongly about a political ideology as someone else feels about their faith, yet we do not criminalise anyone who vilifies capitalism, or someone who insults Marxism. Religious beliefs have a strong influence on people – sometimes even those who do not espouse that belief – so these beliefs must be open to criticism the same as any other school of thought. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience are fundamental human rights that we all benefit from and must protect,” the association said.

Read the full statement on Malta Humanist Association website.

“74 Children Forced To Fight In Cages And Executed By ISIS For ‘Blasphemy’, Including Refusal To Fast”

Ongoing torture and executions by ISIS have been widely reported in recent weeks – though perhaps not nearly as widely as the situation merits! has an in-depth summary of some of the utterly brutal and devastating “punishments” being metered out for such imaginary transgressions as “blasphemy and spying, as well as sorcery, sodomy, and practicing as a Shia Muslim”:

A recent report filed by the UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has revealed startling figures regarding high numbers of executions carried out by terrorist organisation ISIS in the first year of establishing its “caliphate.” With numbers exceeding 3,000 total executions, the report states the organisation have developed a particular interest in the torture and murder of children.

Of the thousands of Arab and Kurdish civilian executions carried out by ISIS, 74 included in the numbers were discovered to have been young children. Many of the murders including beheading, stoning, and being burned alive, however the methods with which ISIS targeted children appeared altogether more insidious.

Child military training (

Child military training (

The report detailed two incidents earlier this month in which children were nailed to boards and crucified for refusing to fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. However, the violence enacted on minors by the group has increased over the past 12 months, as ISIS release recordings of children captured and forced to fight in cages, as well as undertaking intense military training.

ISIS claim the attacks on minors to be punishment for crimes including blasphemy and spying, as well as sorcery, sodomy, and practicing as a Shia Muslim.

The sickening reality of violence towards children within the ranks of ISIS appears to be the tip of the iceberg as the organization launches recruitment scheme “cubs of the caliphate.” The “cubs” offices set up by ISIS work to target and entice children to join the ranks of the militia upheld by terrorist group, despite the perverse methods of torture and execution displayed.

Sudan: Two pastors charged with “blasphemy”, and face possible death sentence for “constitutional” crime


Pastors Michael and Peter, who appear to be facing a legal campaign of persecution by Sudanese authorities

Two Christian pastors in Sudan who have previously spoken out about anti-Christian persecution, and (it just so happens!) appear to be locked in a land dispute with the government, have been charged with various crimes in connection with the dispute and their preaching, including the crime of “blasphemy” (which mandates a prison sentence), as well as “Undermining the constitutional system” which is punishable by death! The ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian lobbying and campaigns group) notes numerous flaws in the trial, including: the presumption of guilt upon being charged, requiring the defence to prove their innocence; the court giving wholly inadequate time (fifteen minutes!) to prepare a defence; and finally, the arrest of the defence lawyer! In their most recent update ACLJ report:

Time is running out for Pastors Michael and Peter, the two Christian pastors facing trumped-up charges in Sudan because of their faith. Today, we are launching a massive letter-writing campaign to save them.

… Even their attorney was recently arrested for defending the same church where Pastor Michael preached and spoke out against the persecution of Christians in Sudan.

But all hope is not lost. We are working with Mariam Ibraheem who was freed from death row in Sudan because of people around the globe speaking out for justice. She is a reminder that your voice matters.

… We have launched a massive letter-writing campaign to Sudan’s new Minister of Justice demanding Sudan follow international law, ensure that these persecuted pastors can properly prepare a defense, and that the case be dismissed for a lack of evidence. … Send a letter to the Sudanese Minister of Justice today at

Bangladesh: Thousands-strong rally demands death of “non-believer”, 12 point charter, and media disinformation

Bangladesh continues its horrific slide toward the “Pakistanization” of blasphemy accusations, with thousands of Islamists rallying last week demanding the death of former government minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui (“the non-believer”!) over critical comments he reportedly made in 2014 about the hajjAFP reports:

Anger among Islamists has been rising since former telecommunications minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui was released on bail last week over comments he made in 2014 against the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Supporters of Hefajat-e-Islam and other hardline Islamic groups chanted “Death for infidel Latif” and waved placards during a march through the capital.

“Our protest will continue till the government ensures the highest punishment for the non-believer,” Noor Hossain Kafeli, a senior leader of Hefajat, told reporters.

… Hefajat led mass protests in 2013 calling for a new blasphemy law that left scores of people dead, mainly in clashes with police.

“At least three to four thousand people are attending this procession. We are remaining alert to avoid any untoward incidents,” a police commander told AFP on condition of anonymity in Dhaka.

Siddiqui told Bangladeshi expatriates at a gathering in New York last September that he was “dead against” the hajj mainly because it was a “waste” of manpower.

Footage of the comments was broadcast back in Bangladesh where protests prompted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to sack him.

He was eventually arrested for “wounding religious sentiments” and remains under police investigation. No charges have been laid.

Last Friday, the freedom of expression advocacy organization Article 19 launched a 12-point “charter” calling for the end of legal harassment of bloggers, and greater freedom of speech online:

Prof Ajay Roy, father of slain writer-blogger Avijit Roy, launched the charter for ‘creating a vibrant and fearless space’ at a programme held at BRAC Centre Inn in Dhaka on Friday.

Article 19 Director for Bangladesh and South Asia Tahmina Rahman said, “This charter for the bloggers takes into consideration the complications they generally face while exercising the right to expression.

“This charter strongly mentions the rights of bloggers and online activists and emphasises their protection from violence, torture and harassment.”

She said the charter also stresses on not forcing the writers and bloggers to reveal their sources and treat them equally as journalists in such case and not to make mandatory their registration with any government institution.

Physicist Ajay Roy alleged that ‘the government has a passive attitude towards the bloggers’ and added, “The government is yet to realise that they (bloggers) have become a target of the extremists.

“If they (government) had understood it three people would not have been murdered in several months.”

And today — amid ongoing wider concerns about the ineffectiveness of investigations into the blogger murders — the blogging platform Mukto-Mona, founded by murdered writer Avijit Roy and still helmed by his widow Rafida Bonya Ahmed, has drawn attention to “misleading” and “false” media stories around the apparent arrests of the suspects. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) supported the call:

Following stories earlier in the week (such as Dhaka Tribune’s “Bonya identifies blogger Avijit’s killers“), Mukto-Mona has issued a statement on behalf of Bonya Rafida Ahmed, the widow of Avijit Roy, herself seriously injured in the attack that took his life. (Mukto-Mona was founded by Avijit Roy, and Bonya Ahmed is a senior member of the moderating staff.)

In the statement, Mukto-Mona criticises “glib and misleading clickbait headlines” and refutes the substance of some stories. Despite media reports claiming to quote directly from Bonya, specifically in relation to supposedlly identifying assailants, Mukto-Mona counters:

“Since Bonya Ahmed returned to the USA for further medical treatment (after spending four days in the Square Hospital ICU after the attack), to date, neither the Bangladesh Police nor the FBI have sent her any photos for identification. She has not identified any person as the murderer(s) of Avijit Roy.

The US intelligence agency the FBI has remained in regular contact with Bonya Ahmed. We want to categorically state that the Government of Bangladesh, the state administration, the Bangladeshi embassies in the US–none of these organizations have contacted Bonya Ahmed directly or through the FBI. Following Bonya Ahmed’s interview with Reuters (bdnews link here), although Sajeeb Wazed Joy quickly got in touch with Reuters, no one on behalf of the government of Bangladesh felt it necessary to speak directly to Bonya Ahmed.

… We want the murderers of Avijit Roy to be arrested and punished to the fullest extent of the law. We want the murderers of Ananta Bijoy Das to be arrested and punished. We want the highest possible punishment through due process for the murderers of Rajib Haider, Washiqur Rahman Babu, and all other freethinkers. We do not want press conferences or news reports full of falsehoods.”

Paksitan: Husband of death row inmate Asia Bibi on the extrajudicial threats to kill her

As we reported last week, police in Pakistan made a fortuitious rare intervention to save the life of a Christian couple accused of blasphemy and attacked by a mob. They even made arrests including a cleric accused of stirring up the trouble. This week a second cleric has also been arrested in connection with the mob violence.

A widely shared photograph of Asia Bibi, from before she was jailed and sentenced to death for "blasphemy" in Pakistan

A widely shared photograph of Asia Bibi, from before she was jailed and sentenced to death for “blasphemy” in Pakistan

Meanwhile, Asia Bibi, a Christian mother, has been on death row since 2010 for “blasphemy”, an accusation originating in an argument with neighbours over a drinking cup! There have been reports recently that her health is failing (she is coughing up blood in her jail cell and receives limited or no medical attention).

This week, her husband Ashiq Masih gave a disturbing interview reported via Christians in Pakistan:

“The Maulvis (clerics) want her dead. They have announced a prize of Rs 10,000 to Rs 500,000 (£60 to £3,200) for anyone who kills Asia. They have even declared that if the court acquits her they will ensure the death sentence stands.

‘I am planning our protection. If she is set free I hope we’re moved to a safer country as Pakistan cannot protect her.

‘She’s not made any mistake. We all know she’s not committed any crime. We all know how Pakistan treats Christians. She was framed, she never committed any crime.”

Separated now for over half a decade, he also talked about his love for the wife he is rarely able to see:

“‘I really love her and miss her presence,’ he said. ‘I cannot sleep at night as I miss her. I miss her smile; I miss everything about her. She is my soul mate. I cannot see her in prison. It breaks my heart. Life has been non-existent without her.’”

Saudi TV’s dark satire on ISIS is hugely popular… and also a “heresy” deserving of death, say critics

A new TV comedy from Saudi ArabiaSelfie, which satirizes the violence and idiocy of ISIS, as well as the vagaries and brutality of Sunni-Shiite sectarianism, has won big ratings and much praise in the Middle East. However, the star has received death threats and one “mainstream Saudi cleric” called the show “heresy”, after it mocked the country’s ultraconservative religious establishment. Mint Press News reports:

In one of the show’s episodes, lead actor Naser al-Qasabi plays a would-be “caliph” starting his own ISIS-style militia, but he’s surrounded by buffoons and hypocrites.

His “mufti,” or top cleric, never finished school. He struggles to find ways to make his group stand out — their flag is the same as that of ISIS, but with the black and white colors flipped.

Selfie’s head writer and star Khalaf Al-Harbi (front) and Naser Al-Qasabi (rear)

Selfie’s head writer and star Khalaf Al-Harbi (front) and Naser Al-Qasabi (rear)

… Naser al-Qasabi, the series’ star, and its writer Khalaf al-Harbi told The Associated Press that they expected the backlash, but weren’t prepared for the popularity.

It’s one of the top shows on MBC, a privately owned Saudi TV network, and has been the talk of media in the region.

Al-Qasabi says the series’ dark humour reveals just how tragic the situation across the Middle East has become.

… Another sketch lampooned Saudi Arabia’s powerful, ultraconservative religious establishment and its stance against music. That was the episode that prompted cleric Saeed bin Mohammed bin Farwa to accuse al-Qasabi and MBC of heresy.

In response, Al-Qasabi told the Associated Press he views his acting career as his own form of “jihad” — which in Islam means any struggle in the path towards God.

“Offering something positive that raises awareness of issues, I see this as jihad. Jihad is that you raise your children well. Jihad is that you work and are on a path to doing things well. Jihad is that you are good at your work…Life is one great jihad.”

Snoop Dogg “blasphemes” against Zoroastrianism, sparking lawsuit. Yep this is happening.

Snoop Dogg sitting in a throne with a Zoroastrian symbol on it, shortly before lighting a "doobie"

Snoop Dogg sitting in a throne with a Zoroastrian symbol on it, shortly before lighting a “doobie”

And finally… The hip hop, funk, reggae and rap artiste, and actor, Snoop Dogg (real name Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr.) has been accused of blaspheming one of the world’s oldest extant religions, Zoroastrianism. A Parsi Zoroastrian organization has apparently filed a lawsuit to ban the video in India.

In the music video to accompany his latest track “King”, Mr Dogg is depicted smoking what appears to be a funny cigarette, while seated on a golden throne adorned with an ancient Zoroastrian symbol . Yahoo News reports:

And while Snoop smoking is nothing new, this time he’s lighting up near a sacred Zoroastrian symbol – something the faith finds disrespectful and blasphemous. It also doesn’t help that the video features shots of scantily clad pole dancers.

The Calcutta Zoroastrian chapter which issued the public interest lawsuit is hoping to ban the video, and a representative said: “The wrong use of religious and sacred symbols and iconography hurts, insults and outrages the religious sentiments and beliefs of Parsi Zoroastrians.”

From a completely secular perspective though, “King” is offensive because, honestly, it’s just not very good.

In line with our tradition of sharing the content that others accuse of “blasphemy”, here’s the video so you can judge whether it’s not very good for yourself:

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Title: The week in “blasphemy” news #23
Date Posted: July 10, 2015
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Category: Round-ups

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