Imprisonment for Blasphemy and Religious Dissent Around the World Detailed in New Report

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 Kharlamovand 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.

Image via Shutterstock.

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  • MKW

    “Pellot declares these countries’ election to the commission to be “a disgrace.” Why this is lost on the UN is beyond me.”

    Perhaps the problem is that you forgot that the UN is the same place that gave the 5 biggest arms dealers the world has ever know, permanent positions on the “Security” Council.

    Personally, I think there should be a “Usual Suspects” category where we can lump in all the countries we know are going to be in each and every one of these reports. It would cut out a few pages where they list all those countries.

  • http://lady-die.deviantart.com/ LizzyJessie

    Wasn’t there a big thing a few years back about a country that was known to violate human rights on an institutionalized level having a representative placed as lead of the UN Human Rights Council?

  • baal

    Syria. One of the countries to which we exported humans for torture.

  • Katarn

    I am surprised to see South Korea on there. At least I don’t have to add it to my list of countries I wouldn’t feel safe being in but its really disappointing and might makes my list of “countries that do shitty things that make me not want to visit them, even though I would still be safe there”.

  • islandbrewer

    I don’t know if I’d put South Koreas imprisonment of JWs in the same category as blasphemy. Korea isn’t imprisoning them for their beliefs per se, but imprisoning them for failing to comply with compulsory military service, which is still wrong, but not really the same thing in my mind. I see it as no different from imprisoning someone for practicing their “religious” objection to paying taxes. I just happen to believe it’s wrong to compel military service (but not wrong to make people pay taxes).

  • smrnda

    I know some countries require compulsory *service* which can be military or some other kind of public service, and I can’t see why a nation can’t provide a non-military alternative for conscientious objectors. If they’ve got 600 such people imprisoned in South Korea, I can’t imagine 600 is going to make our break their military if they let them do something else.

    Of course, they may be doing this because they’re worried that, if they let anyone get out of military service, nobody will do it anymore.

    Also, South Korea exempts star athletes from doing military service.

  • Malcolm McLean

    Exactly. It’s not about 600 JWs, who would be neither here nor there if it came to repelling an invasion from the atheist regime up North. It’s that it might take hold.

  • https://antiavidanime.wordpress.com/ The Other Weirdo

    Since when is North Korea an atheist regime?

  • TVG

    Since someone confused a regime that includes limited atheism in its doctrines (but demandsr Kim worship) with actual atheism itself. North Korea is like any other monotheism in that it insists that it’s subjects have ‘no other gods before me’.

  • Lynn

    The Koran is all about this:

    Qur’an Sura 8:12b, “… terrorize and behead those who believe in scriptures other than the Qur’an.”

    Hadith, Sahih Muslim 1:33a, “The Messenger of Allah said: ‘I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and they establish [Islamic] prayer …”

    Qur’an Sura 8:55, “Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve [non-Muslims] …”

    Christianity + Islam in U.S.= No Free Speech or Rights. Read what it says here about their court system.

    “In Saudi Arabia there is no written penal code other than the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is subject to the vague interpretations of individual judges, who frequently act as both judge and prosecution. The report notes that “As a result, citizens and residents have no means of knowing with any precision what constitutes a criminal offence.” Case law does not set precedent, and neither is there a presumption that a person is “innocent before proven guilty.”

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    Lynn, if we’re going to talk about how horrible holy books are, you may wish to take a look at the Holy Bible as well. Yes, the Qu’ran has horrible things in it, but it’s not unique nor a reason to condemn that religion without condemning all others with similar passages. When you put out a post like this, attacking Islam for the same things you overlook in the Bible, it looks very … fishy.

  • Lynn

    Fishy! Should I write a book on the atrocities of all religions? Did you see I wrote Christianity + Islam = No women’s rights or rights period! Or did you skip over that short blurb? I am pretty sure all the people this post talks about, have been convicted of blasphemy against Islam!

    In the U.S. at least as of now, our judicial system is based on laws not the bible. Thank goodness for that!

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    I did miss that line, yes. It can be very difficult to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Islam and Islamic theocracies and the sort of blindness people have towards the horrible stuff in their holy books while simultaneously condemning equally horrible stuff in other people’s holy books.

    I’d rather stay away from that sort of textual analysis in general, honestly, unless someone claims their holy book is all good or all bad. What matters is the practices of the states, ie your last paragraph talking about Saudi Arabia’s (lack of) a justice system. Like all sets of holy books, those verses and hadiths have contradicting verses and hadiths that speak of wisdom, mercy, and tolerance as well, so just pointing to verses doesn’t get us much of anywhere.

  • Lynn

    I might be a little harsh, but as an American woman whose life has been adversely effected by Islam, I have a bias. Christopher Hitchens knew the destruction Islam will have on the US and I believe it is just a matter of time. Do you know that CAIR has filled over 150 lawsuits in the last 2 years, targeting free speech towards Islam in the US? It is a religion I pay much attention to.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    In the US, I’m far more scared of Christianity. Islam has had no impact whatsoever on my life. Christianity has, and it has been a negative one. Did you know that the political might of Christian extremists in Texas is so high that they will almost certainly elect one as governor … again?

    Does that mean I should accuse all Christians of being evil, or argue that the Bible is only about its worst pull-quotes?

  • Lynn

    I never used the word all, but did use bias. As a woman I believe, most religions make women second class citizens. Last thing I will say, I personally do not want sharia law implemented into our judicial system. I believe it will be devastating to the US. When we think just about the effects now, it does not seem like much, but think what it could do in 20 yrs?

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    As opposed to the Biblical law that is now infiltrating our laws, instead of some theoretical harm from Shari’a (which isn’t going to happen since Muslims don’t have nearly the population or the extremist population here in the States to do anything like that) in 20 years?

  • Nemo

    Intellectual weaklings relying on brutality to silence opinions they are uncomfortable with? What else is new?

  • TheG

    Okay, but enough about American high schools…

  • John Gills

    On the one hand, I’m horrified by philosophical/religious totalitarianism. On the other hand, there’s a little comfort knowing that these examples of brutality are both widely reported and condemned and that this brutality is a frightened response to a world in which blind obedience can no longer exist.

    Remember Germaine Greer’s comment, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” In these cases of intolerance the truth also terrifies them. The tragedy is that the dying snake is killing people as its life fades.