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    Defamation of Religions

    Module 6: Hate Speech

    Many states in South and Southeast Asia have laws prohibiting defamation of religions, and many also have the crime of blasphemy.  For example, Sri Lanka’s Penal Code prohibits certain expressions which harm the ‘religious feelings’ of others.(1) In Indonesia it is prohibited to promote atheism or any religion other than the six enumerated under domestic law.(2) Some countries have implemented particularly harsh penalties for the crimes of blasphemy and defamation of religion, including death.  For example, in Pakistan, blasphemy is a capital offence.(3)

    These laws represent a breach of the right to freedom of expression. General Comment 34 states that:

    “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant, except in the specific circumstances envisaged in article 20, paragraph 2, of the Covenant. Such prohibitions must also comply with the strict requirements of article 19, paragraph 3, as well as such articles as 2, 5, 17, 18 and 26. Thus, for instance, it would be impermissible for any such laws to discriminate in favour of or against one or certain religions or belief systems, or their adherents over another, or religious believers over non-believers. Nor would it be permissible for such prohibitions to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.”

    Many other countries have abolished the offence of blasphemy in recent years, for example the United Kingdom in 2008,(4) Denmark in 2017,(5) and Canada in 2018.(6)


    1. Media Defence, ‘Training Manual on International and Comparative Media and Freedom of Expression Law’, Richard Carver, (2020) (accessible at: Back
    2. The Guardian, ‘Denmark scraps 334-year old blasphemy law’ (2017) (accessible at: Back
    3. Global News Wire, ‘Repeal of Canada’s Blasphemy Law Applauded by National Secularist Organization’ (2018) (accessible at: Back