Legal Study: Defamation of Religions – International Developments and Challenges on the Ground

Social Science Research Network2011.

Abstract: This paper aims to provide a general overview of the current debate on religious defamation laws internationally, and to research and analyse the use and impact of the ‘defamation of religion’ concept and blasphemy laws on freedom of expression in three OIC member states. Part I of the paper will explore the evolution of the concept within the UN in three sections: Section One looks at the positions held by the OIC since the introduction of the initial resolution on defamation of religion at the UN; Section Two explores the counter positions held by NGOs and states in disagreement; and Section Three examines the treatment of this concept in other UN reports, namely from its committees and independent experts, as a measure of the current international consensus. Part II of this project is a study of three selected OIC member states: Algeria, Syria and Pakistan. In this section we present the national laws on religious defamation and blasphemy in each country, including amendments and contemporary moves towards reform. We then follow with a series of recent cases that have employed these laws in each of the three countries, and analyse the use of each in relation to the impact it had on freedom of expression, and other rights and freedoms enshrined in human rights law. By doing so we aim to identify whether the de facto prohibition of defamation relating to religion falls within the spirit of, or conversely is repugnant to each state’s obligations under international human rights law.

Note: The paper was written with Julia Alfandari and Regula Atteya.  I researched and wrote specifically on the defamation discourse at the UN (Section 2.3, here), and the legal and human impact of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws using five case studies (here).