WASHINGTON, DC – 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 Indonesia and 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.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at [email protected].