El Ghazzali Criticizes Blasphemy Laws at the UN

Kacem El Ghazzali, an atheist blogger from Morocco who now lives in exile in Switzerland because of that country’s authoritarian blasphemy laws, addressed the UN Human Rights Council and strongly criticized the use of blasphemy laws, including by several of the nations that sit on that council. The International Humanist and Ethical Union has the transcript of his brief speech.

It has now been 22 months that the Saudi intellectual and editor of a liberal website, Mr Raif Badawi, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Mr Badawi was sentenced to 7 years in jail and 600 lashes for “setting up a website that undermines general security ” and “ridiculing Islamic religious figures”.

Many human rights groups protested this cruel sentence; my own organization IHEU called it a “gratuitous, violent sentence”.

For some, this extreme punishment was not enough; last December, a judge recommended that the imprisoned blogger go before a high court on the charge of apostasy.

Thus, while we are gathered here to talk about Human Rights and work for a better world, Mr Raif Badawi remains in jail and could receive the death penalty at any time.

Meanwhile in Mauritania, 28-year old blogger, Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’Kheitir, has been arrested for publishing an article seen by some as lacking in respect for the prophet Muhammad and an act of apostasy. The latter is punishable by death, according to Article 306 of the Mauritanian penal code.

Mr President, it is regrettable to think that every time we come to this council, we only get more cases where freethinkers are being arrested and threatened, while others remain in jail for so-called crimes of “apostasy” or “blasphemy”.

We note that while Saudi Arabia is not a signatory of the ICCPR and Mauritania has a reservation to Article 18 – the very Article to protect bloggers such as Mr M’Kheitir – these states nonetheless have been elected to this council; a council which is supposed to work to promote the freedom and human rights of all people, not just those fortunate enough to agree with the religious beliefs of the state they live in.

The UNHRC includes lots of countries with blasphemy laws, including Kuwait, Pakistan and Indonesia.

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