By Coptic Solidarity, Special for USDR
Today Coptic Solidarity launched an advocacy campaign in support of House Resolution 290 which calls for the global repeal of blasphemy laws. Representative Joe Pitts (R-PA) introduced the bill on behalf of himself and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D – CA) on June 2nd.
Coptic Solidarity applauds the bi-partisan cooperation on this important bill which addresses the dangerous proliferation and use of blasphemy laws and norms at both the international and national levels. This resolution affirms full religious freedom for all, and has a particular focus on blasphemy laws in Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The laws in each of these countries have a similar objective, which is to place a government as the arbiter of truth or religious rightness and empower the government to discriminate against reformist individuals and millions of minorities by enforcing majoritarian religious views through vague and overarching criminal definitions, such as “insulting Islam”.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reports that blasphemy cases have increased in Egypt since 2011, unfortunately also continuing after the removal of the country’s Islamist president. They also report that the majority who have been sentenced to prison are Christians, Shi’a Muslims, and atheists in flawed court trials, such as the case targeting Mohamed Hegazy for the mere attempt to reflect his personal conversion by applying to formally change the religious status from Muslim to Christian on his state-issued identification card. The trend is similar throughout the region in that blasphemy laws are used disproportionately against minorities to silence their views and full religious freedom.
Through the online campaign, individuals are asked to send their US Representative a message, asking them to cosponsor H. Res 290 and support its swift passage. The advocacy software makes it very simple for individuals who may not even know who their US Representative is to send a pre-written letter (or edit it), and to enter their address which is used to map their message to the correct legislator.
Articles 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both guarantee the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Most national constitutions also have provisions to guarantee freedom of religion. Yet, blasphemy laws counter those very same rights by punishing expression deemed contemptuous of God or sacred things, defamatory of religion, or insulting to religion or religious symbols, figures, or feelings. Such punishment can include fines, imprisonment, and even death.
- In January 2015, Egyptian atheist student Karim Al-Banna was given a three year prison sentence for blasphemy because a court found some of his Facebook posts to “belittle the divine.”
- In November 2014, Christians Sajjad Meseeh and his wife Shama Bibi were beaten to death and thrown in a brick kiln after allegations of blasphemy were made against them.
- In May 2014, Muslim human rights attorney Rashid Rehman was assassinated for defending a client accused of blasphemy.
The Pew Research Center found in 2011 that countries with laws against blasphemy, apostasy, or defamation of religion were more likely to have high government restrictions on religion or social hostilities based on religion than countries that do not have such laws. In 2012, PEW published that 44 countries had blasphemy laws including 14 Middle East and North African countries, 11 countries in the Americas, 9 Asia-Pacific countries, 7 European countries, and 3 Sub-Saharan African countries.
Key points in H. RES. 290 include:
- Calls on the President and the Department of State (Department) to make the repeal of blasphemy laws a priority in their relationships with countries that have such laws.
- Encourages the President and the Department to oppose any efforts at the United Nations (U.N.) or other international or multilateral fora to create an international anti-blasphemy norm, or attempts to expand the international norm on incitement to include blasphemy or defamation of religions.
- Reaffirms the decision to designate Saudi Arabia as a “country of particular concern” for detaining and imprisoning people for blasphemy and for imposing torture, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment and calls on the President and the State Department to designate Pakistan and Egypt each as a “country of particular concern” for perpetrating and tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
- Urges the Governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries to amend or repeal their blasphemy laws as they serve as a pretext for impunity or violence against religious minorities.
- Urges those countries that have imprisoned people on charge of blasphemy to release them unconditionally and, once released, ensure their safety and the safety of their families.
Coptic Solidarity President, Mr. Alex Shalaby says, “I encourage all individuals who support religious freedom to take just a moment to advocate for those who do not enjoy freedom of religion, conscience and expression as we do. Please visit our website atwww.copticsolidarity.org to learn more about this campaign and other ways in which you can support Copts and the minorities of theMiddle East.”
Coptic Solidarity is an organization seeking to help minorities, particularly the Copts, of Egypt and we support those in Egypt working for democracy, freedom, and the protection of the fundamental rights of all Egyptian citizens. Our international organization has headquarters in the Washington, D.C., area in the U.S., with key branches currently in Canada, France, and Egypt. Our organization believes that the international community plays a key role in helping ensure the protection and upholding of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. For more information, contact Lindsay Vessey at 801-512-1713 or email@example.com
SOURCE Coptic Solidarity