Canada repeals “blasphemy” law!

The Canadian Senate has voted to repeal the country’s “blasphemous libel”, as part of a bill intended to remove outdated legislation.

Pending “Royal Assent” this will mean the end of “blasphemy” law in Canada!

Under Section 296 of the Canadian Criminal Code, dating back to 1892 the crime of “blasphemous libel” was in principle punishable by a prison term up to two years. Despite a “good faith” provision protecting “opinion” delivered in “decent language”, the law had historically been used to prosecute satire and criticism. The last conviction as in 1927, though as late as 1979 an Anglican clergyman tried unsuccessfully to bring a prosecution against Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.

Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the BC [British Columbia] Humanist Association, a partner in the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, comments:

The passage of this Bill is a clear recognition by Parliament that archaic restrictions on freedom of expression have no place in Canada. Further, it serves as a sign that Canada condemns those theocracies around the world that are willing to punish someone for disagreeing with religious orthodoxy.

Humanist and freethinking groups from across Canada ran a Parliamentary petition calling for the repeal of section 296, gaining 7400 signatures. In an official response to the petition from Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, it was confirmed that the blasphemy law was being considered as part of a broader effort of justice reform. The Government then included the repeal of section 296 in a bill to modernize the criminal code. Known as Bill C-51, the act consolidates and repeals many provisions now considered archaic or unconstitutional.

As BC Humanists point out:

C-51 initially also proposed repealing section 176 of the Criminal Code. This section prohibits disrupting a religious service. Humanists argued at every stage that repealing this section would help protect the right of Canadians to dissent from religious orthodoxy. However, the Government ultimately chose to amend the section following a large and coordinated effort by religious groups to lobby the House of Commons committee that studied the bill.

The bill reached the Senate in December 2017 and passed third reading with amendments on October 30, 2018. The House of Commons considered those amendments on December 6 and 10, 2018 and ultimately rejected them. In a vote today the Senate agreed it “does not insist on its Amendments” clearing the way for its passage.

It now awaits Royal Assent by Governor General Julie Payette, at which point Canada’s blasphemy law will be officially repealed.

Congratulations to BC Humanists and all in Canada who campaigned for this change!

Asia Bibi acquittal: what the judges said, and what happens next

Asia Bibi, a Christian farm labourer from Pakistan, has been in solitary confinement for most of the past 9 years. She was sentenced to death in 2010, based on a ‘blasphemy’ accusation made by some of her Muslim neigbours. The neighbours had objected to her drinking from the same water source and reportedly pressured her into making a ‘confession’.

Earlier today, the supreme court in Pakistan finally overturned the conviction. It’s worth looking in detail at the background to the case, the powerful final judgement, and what it may mean for the future. Continue reading »

Mauritanian “blasphemer” handed 2 year sentence – after 4 years in jail

It has taken the Mauritanian legal system four long, arduous years to hand down a sentence of two years prison and a fine to Mauritian blogger, Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’kheitir.

M’kheitir’s troubles began in 2014 when he was detained for writing an article about caste discrimination and religion, comparing the status of so-called “low caste” Mauritanians (like himself) to those enslaved during the time of the prophet Mohammed.

He was accused of blasphemy for ‘insulting Mohammed’ and of ‘apostasy’ (i.e. leaving Islam). He was sentenced to death in December 2014 by the Criminal Court.

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Canadian government bill could repeal “obsolete” law on “blasphemous libel”

Following quickly on from Malta and Denmark, it now looks like Canada is about to repeal its antiquated “blasphemy” law!

Yesterday (Tuesday 6 June) the Canadian government tabled Bill C-51 (2017): an act to amend parts of the Criminal Code and other laws. One of the objectives of the bill is to remove “obsolete and/or redundant provisions” of the Canadian Criminal Code, including section 296 – which criminalizes “blasphemous libel”.

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Blasphemy law abolished in Denmark!

Today, Friday 2 June, the Danish parliament has voted to end centuries of “blasphemy” law!

Rumours had been confirmed earlier this week that the ruling ‘Venstre’ party would join other parties including the socialist opposition ‘Enhedslisten’, which proposed the abolition, in voting for an abolition, making this morning’s vote more or less a done deal.

The “blasphemy” law was abolished by a majority of 75 – 27.

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Stephen Fry blasphemy probe in Ireland is dropped – may lead to abolition of New Zealand’s law!

That was quick!

Even as the world responded to news that Stephen Fry was being investigated for “blasphemy” in Ireland yesterday, the Gardaí (Irish police) decided to drop the probe because they couldn’t find a large enough group of people outraged by the comments.

Meanwhile, the coverage apparently alerted senior officials in New Zealand to the existence of their own “blasphemy” law, and the prime minister then pledged to abolish it!

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Outgoing governor of Jakarta sentenced to two years for “blasphemy”

The outgoing governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, usually known as ‘Ahok’, has been sentenced to two years in jail for criminal “blasphemy”.

The governor of the capital city of Indonesia, world’s most populous Muslim country, had previously been highly popular. But he was due to stand down later in 2017 after having lost the governorship election last month, following a vicious campaign against him for alleged “blasphemy”.

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Stephen Fry named in criminal blasphemy investigation in Ireland

A police investigation has been announced into an interview segment on RTÉ, the public service broadcaster of the Republic of Ireland, which featured the British comedian and actor Stephen Fry.

Ireland passed a new “blasphemy” law in 2009, making it the only developed country to have introduced “blasphemy” as a criminal offence in the twenty-first century.

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