Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief:
“States should repeal blasphemy laws, which typically have a stifling effect on open dialogue and public discourse, often particularly affecting persons belonging to religious minorities”
“States should repeal any criminal law provisions that penalize apostasy, blasphemy and proselytism, as they may prevent persons belonging to religious or belief minorities from fully enjoying their freedom of religion or belief.”
In a joint statement during the Durban Review Conference, Geneva 2009, three United Nations Special Rapporteurs – respectively on freedom of religion or belief, on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance – underlined that:
“(…) the difficulties in providing an objective definition of the term “defamation of religions” at the international level make the whole concept open to abuse. At the national level, domestic blasphemy laws can prove counter-productive, since this could result in the de facto censure of all inter-religious and intra-religious criticism. Many of these laws afford different levels of protection to different religions and have often proved to be applied in a discriminatory manner. There are numerous examples of persecution of religious minorities or dissenters, but also of atheists and non-theists, as a result of legislation on religious offences or overzealous application of laws that are fairly neutral.”
Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence:
“It is often purported that freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief are in a tense relationship or can even be contradictory. Instead they are mutually dependent and reinforcing. The freedom to exercise or not one’s religion or belief cannot exist if the freedom of expression is not respected as free public discourse depends on respect for the diversity of deep convictions which people may have. Likewise, freedom of expression is essential to creating an environment in which a constructive discussion about religious matters could be held. Indeed, free and critical thinking in open debate is the soundest way to probe whether religious interpretations adhere to, or rather distort the original values that underpin religious belief.
At the national level, blasphemy laws are counter-productive, since they may result in the de facto censure of all inter-religious/belief and intra-religious/belief dialogue, debate, and also criticism, most of which could be constructive, healthy and needed. In addition, many of these blasphemy laws afford different levels of protection to different religions and have often proved to be applied in a discriminatory manner. There are numerous examples of persecution of religious minorities or dissenters, but also of atheists and non-theists, as a result of legislation on religious offences or overzealous application of various laws that use a neutral language. Moreover, the right to freedom of religion or belief, as enshrined in relevant international legal standards, does not include the right to have a religion or a belief that is free from criticism or ridicule.”
General comment 34 of the Human Rights Committee on the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights:
“Freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are indispensable conditions for the full development of the person. They are essential for any society… States parties should put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression.
… Since any restriction on freedom of expression constitutes a serious curtailment of human rights, it is not compatible with the Covenant for a restriction to be enshrined in traditional, religious or other such customary law
… Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant, [except if strictly limited to curtailing incitement to “discrimination, hostility or violence”]. … Nor would it be permissible for such prohibitions to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.”
The European Court of Human Rights:
[Freedom of expression constitutes] “one of the essential foundations of a democratic society”… “it is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population”.
European Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief:
“Freedom of expression applies online as well as offline… [Instead of resorting to violence or prosecution…] “New forms of media as well as information and communications technology provide those who feel offended by criticism or rejection of their religion or belief with the tools to instantly exercise their right of reply.
In any case, the EU will recall, when appropriate, that the right to freedom of religion or belief, as enshrined in relevant international standards, does not include the right to have a religion or a belief that is free from criticism or ridicule.”
In a 2008 report on the relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of religion, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, better known as the Venice Commission) recommended that:
“the offence of blasphemy should be abolished (which is already the case in most European States) and should not be reintroduced”.