USCIRF groundbreaking report on the enforcement of blasphemy laws globally
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today released a new report entitled Violating Rights: Enforcing the World’s Blasphemy Laws. Eighty-four countries around the globe maintain laws that criminalize expression which insults or offends religious doctrines. This report examines and compares the implementation of blasphemy laws between 2014 and 2018, identifying 732 total cases in 41 countries.
“This report provides extensive data and illustrative examples to demonstrate the plethora of ways that governments’ enforcement of blasphemy laws undermines human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression,” said USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin. “It is no coincidence that the top six countries with the highest number of blasphemy cases—Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India, Egypt, and Indonesia—are all countries that USCIRF identifies as among the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.”
The report also examines how blasphemy laws can mobilize non-state violence. Of the 732 cases found, 674 of those cases involved state enforcement of criminal blasphemy laws. Seventy-eight of the 674 cases with state enforcement included mob activity, threats, and/or violence around blasphemy. There were 58 additional incidents where mob activity, threats, and/or violence occurred around rumors or allegations of blasphemy without state enforcement of the criminal blasphemy law.
“USCIRF has consistently called on countries to abolish blasphemy laws, and this report provides further evidence of why global repeal is urgently needed,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins. “The existence of blasphemy laws empowers extremists to take the law in their own hands and employ violence extrajudicially. In just one example, we have recently seen a devastating uptick in mob violence related to blasphemy allegations in Pakistan.”
This report is a follow up to USCIRF’s 2017 report Respecting Rights? Measuring the World’s Blasphemy Laws, which compiled many of the world’s blasphemy laws and analyzed the laws’ texts against international human rights principles. In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF noted its concern that several countries implemented new or increased penalties for blasphemy in 2019. USCIRF also has issued reports on the enforcement of blasphemy laws in Indonesiaand Pakistan, along with a report on apostasy, blasphemy and hate speech laws in Africa.
USCIRF will be holding a hearing on Blasphemy Laws and the Violation of International Religious Freedom this morning at 10:30 AM EST. Please register for this event here.
Click here to view the report Violating Rights: Enforcing the World’s Blasphemy Laws
USCIRF’s groundbreaking report examines the enforcement of blasphemy laws worldwide. Blasphemy laws criminalize expressions that insults or offends religious doctrines. Focusing on five-year period of 2014 to 2018, this report provides extensive data and illustrative examples to demonstrate the plethora of ways that governments’ enforcement of blasphemy laws undermines human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.
Key findings from this study include the following:
- There are 84 countries across the globe with criminal blasphemy laws on the books as of 2020.
- Researchers, using publicly available sources, found 732 reported blasphemy-related incidents from 2014-2018 across 41 countries, or 49%, of countries with criminal blasphemy laws.
- Of those 732 incidents, 674 were reported cases of state criminal blasphemy law enforcement. Of the 674 cases of state enforcement, mob activity, violence, or threats occurred in 78 cases.
- 81% of the cases of state enforcement were in only 10 of the countries: Pakistan, Iran, Russia, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Yemen, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.
- Together, the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions accounted for 84% of the world’s enforcement of blasphemy laws.
- In 43, or 51%, of these 84 countries, researchers did not find a single case of enforcement of criminal blasphemy laws. Researchers found no reported cases of state enforcement of criminal blasphemy laws in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Of the 732 incidents, 58 were incidents of mob activity, violence, or threats around blasphemy allegations that occurred in situations where there was no state enforcement of the blasphemy law.
- Nearly 80% of the incidents of mob activity, violence, or threats (with or without state enforcement), took place in only four of the countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Egypt.
- In just over half the cases of state enforcement, news reports identified the religion or belief of the accused. Of those cases, Muslims accounted for more than half (56%) of the persons arrested, prosecuted, and/or punished for alleged blasphemy crimes. Other groups frequently targeted for criminal blasphemy law enforcement, where identified, included: Christians (25%), Atheists (7%), Baha’is (7%), and Hindus (3%).
- More than one-quarter (27%) of reported cases implicated alleged blasphemous speech posted on social media platforms.