Human Rights Without Frontiers International, a Brussels-based nonprofit, has released a rather comprehensive report on those who have been imprisoned for religious dissent around the world, and the countries who imprison them. Of particular note to this audience is the report’s acknowledgment of the nonreligious.
This year, a specific section has been created for prisoners whose freedom of expression related to religious issues was violated on the basis of laws against blasphemy, defamation of religion or the Prophet and similar issues: Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia and Turkey.
If you’ve been following the topic of blasphemy laws here or the work of my organization the Center for Inquiry and our Campaign for Free Expression, you probably recognize many of the names listed here: Alexander Aan, Alber Saber, Asia Bibi, Hamza Kashgari, Raif Badawi, Aleksandr Kharlamov, and others. But there were names in this report that were new to me as well, such as Mostafa Bordbar of Iran, found guilty of apostasy when arrested for “intent to commit crimes against Iranian national security”; Gamal Abdu Massoud of Egypt, arrested for blasphemy for posting cartoons critical of Islam; Jabeur Majri of Tunisia, also for cartoons, and many more.
Brian Pellot at Religion News Service, whose beat is religious freedom issues, highlights specifically the absurdity of the membership of the UN’s Human Rights Commission.
Eight of the UNHRC’s 47 member states, including newly elected Morocco, China and Saudi Arabia (their three-year terms begin Wednesday), imprisoned people in 2013 for breaking laws that restrict religious freedom. The five current member states to do the same were India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Libya and South Korea. . . . In these eight states tasked with promoting human rights, religious believers and atheists alike are languishing in prison for maintaining their convictions, for exercising their human rights.
Are you as surprised as I was to see South Korea on this list? Turns out they’ve imprisoned almost 600 Jehovah’s Witnesses for their conscientious objection to serving in the military, which is compulsory.
Pellot declares these countries’ election to the commission to be “a disgrace.” Why this is lost on the UN is beyond me.
The report is viewable as a Google Doc here.