Month: May 2017

Petition calls on Denmark to repeal blasphemy ban, Index on Censorship, 15 May 2017

Petition calls on Denmark to repeal blasphemy ban, Index on Censorship, 15 May 2017

STATEMENT
Petition calls on Denmark to repeal blasphemy ban
15 May 2017
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP
We the undersigned respectfully urge the Danish Parliament to vote in favour of bill L 170 repealing the blasphemy ban in section 140 of the Danish criminal code, punishing “Any person who, in public, ridicules or insults the dogmas or worship of any lawfully existing religious community”.

Denmark is recognised as a global leader when it comes to the protection of human rights and freedom of expression. However, Denmark’s blasphemy ban is manifestly inconsistent with the Danish tradition for frank and open debate and puts Denmark in the same category as illiberal states where blasphemy laws are being used to silence dissent and persecute minorities. The recent decision to charge a man – who had burned the Quran – for violating section 140 for the first time since 1971, demonstrates that the blasphemy ban is not merely of symbolic value. It represents a significant retrograde step in the protection of freedom of expression in Denmark.

The Danish blasphemy ban is incompatible with both freedom of expression and equality before the law. There is no compelling reason why the feelings of religious believers should receive special protection against offence. In a vibrant and pluralistic democracy, all issues must be open to even harsh and scathing debate, criticism and satire. While the burning of holy books may be grossly offensive to religious believers it is nonetheless a peaceful form of symbolic expression that must be protected by free speech.

Numerous Danes have offended the religious feelings of both Christians and Muslims without being charged under section 140. This includes a film detailing the supposed erotic life of Jesus Christ, the burning of the Bible on national TV and the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed. The Cartoon affair landed Denmark in a storm of controversy and years of ongoing terrorist threats against journalists, editors and cartoonists. When terror struck in February 2015 the venue was a public debate on blasphemy and free speech.

In this environment, Denmark must maintain that in a liberal democracy, laws protect those who offend from threats, not those who threaten from being offended.

Retaining the blasphemy ban is also incompatible with Denmark’s human rights obligations. In April 2017 Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagtland emphasised that “blasphemy should not be deemed a criminal offence as the freedom of conscience forms part of freedom of expression”. This position is shared by the UN’s Human Rights Committee and the EU Guidelines on freedom of expression and religion.
Since 2014, The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland and Malta have all abolished blasphemy bans. By going against this trend Denmark will undermine the crucial European and international efforts to repeal blasphemy bans globally.

This has real consequences for human beings, religious and secular, around the globe. In countries like Pakistan, Mauretania, Iran, Indonesia and Russia blasphemy bans are being used against minorities as well as political and religious dissenters. Denmark’s blasphemy ban can be used to legitimise such laws. In 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief pointed out that “During a conference held in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) [in 2015], the Danish blasphemy provision was cited by one presenter as an example allegedly indicating an emerging international customary law on “combating defamation of religions”.

Blasphemy laws often serve to legitimise violence and terror. In Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh free-thinkers, political activists, members of religious minorities and atheists have been killed by extremists. In a world where freedom of expression is in retreat and extremism on the rise, democracies like Denmark must forcefully demonstrate that inclusive, pluralistic and tolerant societies are built on the right to think, believe and speak freely. By voting to repeal the blasphemy ban Denmark will send a clear signal that it stands in solidarity with the victims and not the enforcers of blasphemy laws.

Jacob Mchangama, Executive director, Justitia
Steven Pinker, Professor Harvard University
Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, Exiled editor of Shuddhashar, 2016 winner International Writer of Courage Award
Pascal Bruckner, Author
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Human Rights Activist Founder of AHA Foundation,
Dr. Elham Manea, academic and human rights advocate (Switzerland)
Sultana Kamal, Chairperson, Centre for Social Activism Bangladesh
Deeyah Khan, CEO @Fuuse & founder @sister_hood_mag.
Fatou Sow, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Elisabeth Dabinter, Author
William Nygaard, Publisher
Flemming Rose, Author and journalist
Jodie Ginsberg, CEO, Index on Censorship
Kenan Malik, Author of From Fatwa to Jihad
Thomas Hughes, Executive Director Article 19
Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America
Pragna Patel – Director of Southall Black Sisters
Leena Krohn, Finnish writer
Jeanne Favret-Saada, Honorary Professor of Anthropology, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes,
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Fariborz Pooya, Host of Bread and Roses TV
Frederik Stjernfelt, Professor, University of Aalborg in Copenhagen
Marieme Helie Lucas, Secularism Is A Women’s Issue
Michael De Dora, Director of Government Affairs, Center for Inquiry
Robyn Blumner, President & CEO, Center for Inquiry
Nina Sankari, Kazimierz Lyszczynski Foundation (Poland).
Sonja Biserko, Founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
James Lindsay, Author
Malhar Mali, Publisher and editor, Areo Magazine
Julie Lenarz – Executive Director, Human Security Centre, London
Terry Sanderson President, National Secular Society
Greg Lukianoff, CEO and President, FIRE
Thomas Cushman, Professor Wellesley College
Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, New York Law School
Simon Cottee, the Freedom Project, Wellesley College
Paul Cliteur, professor of Jurisprudence at Leiden University
Lino Veljak, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Lalia Ducos, Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universals Rights , WICUR
Lepa Mladjenovic, LC, Belgrade
Elsa Antonioni, Casa per non subire violenza, Bologna
Bobana Macanovic, Autonomos Women’s Center, Director, Belgrade
Harsh Kapoor, Editor, South Asia Citzens Web
Mehdi Mozaffari, Professor Em., Aarhus University, Denmark
Øystein Rian, Historian, Professor Emeritus University of Oslo
Kjetil Jakobsen, Professor Nord University
Scott Griffen, Director of Press Freedom Programmes International Press Institute (IPI)
Henryk Broder, Journalist
David Rand, President, Libres penseurs athées — Atheist Freethinkers
Tom Herrenberg, Lecturer University of Leiden
Simone Castagno, Coordinamento Liguria Rainbow
Laura Caille, Secretary General Libres
Mariannes Andy Heintz, writer
Bernice Dubois, Conseil Européen des Fédérations WIZO
Ivan Hare, QC

Celebrating apostasy and blasphemy in London in July

The Freethinker interviews Maryam Namazie and Marieme Helie Lucas ahead of the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21 Century scheduled to take place in London between July 22 and 24, 2017.

Why organise an international conference on free conscience and expression?

Maryam Namazie: Atheists and freethinkers are targeted by Islamists and religious-Right movements across the globe. Despite the brutal attacks, blasphemy and apostasy laws are often legitimised.

Even where no such laws exist, there is a chorus of voices insisting that freedom of expression and conscience have limits, particularly when it comes to Islam. “Hurt” sensibilities are almost always deemed more important than threats, intimidation, censorship, violence and even murder. And victims are blamed time and time again whilst perpetrators pose as victims.

On the tenth anniversary of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, the conference aims to bring together the largest international gathering of ex-Muslims and freethinkers as a show of strength to reaffirm the right to think and live outside the confines imposed by religion and the religious-Right.

Many of the speakers are on the frontlines of the tsunami of atheism and freethought that has taken hold of societies under Islamist influence with social media doing to Islam what the printing press has done to Christianity.

When dissenters continue to be threatened, silenced, no platformed, intimidated and even killed for rejecting and criticising Islam, a celebration of apostasy, blasphemy and the free word are historical tasks.

Key issues such as women’s resistance, the veil, religious morality, religion in the law and state, identity politics, communalism and multiculturalism, Islamophobia and secularism as a human right will be discussed.

The conference will highlight and honour dissenters such as the Bangladeshi bloggers; Raif Badawi sentenced to 10  years in prison for blogging and Ahmad Al-Shamri sentenced to death for atheism in Saudi Arabia; ex-Muslim atheist H Farook hacked to death in India; 21 year old Sina Dehghan sentenced to death for “insulting the prophet” in Iran; Ayaz Nizami and Rana Noman arrested on blasphemy charges and 23 year old Mashal Khan lynched by a mob at his university in Pakistan …

The gathering – labelled the “Glastonbury of Freethinkers” – will stand out, loud and proud to remind the world that the freedom of conscience and expression are also for those who reject and criticise religion and the religious-Right.  And that the demand for these freedoms are universal.

The conference focus is on freedom from religion; why is that so important and relevant in the right to freedom of conscience? What is link between freedom of expression and right to criticise and leave religion?

Marieme Helie Lucas: Freedom of expression is a consequence, a corollary of the fundamental right of freedom of conscience. Freedom of conscience includes the right to believe and the right not to believe – two sides of the same right that cannot be delinked from one another. Freedom of conscience is absolute. No religion or state can put limits on it.

But while, today, the right to believe is rarely questioned – and when it is, human rights organisations run to the rescue of endangered believers, this is unfortunately not exactly the case with the right not to believe, despite the fact that non-believers in many places are threatened by the rising religious-Right, especially but not exclusively by the Muslim far-Right best represented today by Daesh and the likes.

It is interesting to note that freethinkers are not threatening anyone because of their beliefs; still they are the ones asked to ‘respect’ religions and their followers. Their right to freedom of expression is challenged.

Meanwhile, the religious-Right is indeed curtailing the rights of non-believers and/or followers of other religions, and in many places assassinating them, but no one asks them to ‘respect’ different religious beliefs or the absence of religious beliefs.

This inequality of treatment should be of concern to all as it is a clear threat to democracy and to equality between all citizens.

Maryam Namazie: It’s also important to note that the right to conscience and expression are in particular rights for those who think differently. As Rosa Luxemburg said: ‘Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters’. In a world where religion is deemed sacred and the religious-Right have power to legally persecute and execute freethinkers and atheists, and whip up mobs to kill at will, defending the freedom to criticise and reject religion is a matter of life and death for the innumerable.

Criticism of Islam is often labelled Islamophobic as are ex-Muslim events and conferences. Your point of view?

Marieme Helie Lucas: Who, today, would label “Christianophobic” any meeting of people who were born into a “Christian country” and/or a “Christian family” and are now freethinkers?

So the real question becomes: why is Islam singled out among all religions and for what reason(s); why are freethinkers who are born into Muslim contexts (still abusively labelled “Muslims”) discriminated against when it comes to exercising their fundamental right of freedom of conscience? Whose vested interests is this discrimination serving? Why are the Left and the Far-Left buying into this illogical reasoning when it comes to Islam and Muslims, while they would not if it were Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, etc … What hidden racism lies behind this singling out of Islam and Muslims?

Maryam Namazie: Clearly, criticism of religion and the religious-Right is not the same as bigotry against believers. Islamophobia is a political term that aims to scaremonger people into silence and stop criticism of Islam/Islamism by using rights and anti-racist language. In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan… freethinkers are accused of blasphemy and apostasy and imprisoned/killed. Here in Europe, accusations of Islamophobia are used to impose de facto blasphemy laws and silence much needed criticism.

Historically, criticism of religion has been key for human progress and it remains so today. Those buying into accusations of Islamophobia effectively side with the Islamist narrative at the expense of dissenters.

With the rise of far-Right populism and racism against migrants and Muslims, should such a conference be held?

Marieme Helie Lucas: Insofar as we define Muslim fundamentalism as a far-Right political movement using religion to cover up their political goals, we are simply facing two far-Rights: the “traditional” one, populist, xenophobic, racist; and the new one which is taking the form of the virulent religious-Right. I do not see any reason why we should challenge one of them without challenging the other too.

Let’s note in passing that the question itself testifies to the confusion of concepts that prevails among progressive people today: it is labelling “Muslims” – without ever inquiring about their religious beliefs – all sorts of people of migrant descent. Just ask Christians from the Middle East if they do not face here the same racism as their Muslim colleagues; just ask Indians if they are not confronted with similar rejection than their Pakistani fellows …

It seems very obvious that we should, all together, combat simultaneously the “traditional” far-Right and the new “religious-Right”. They reinforce each other and feed on each other; they need each other in order to mobilise their troops.

Is there any hope given the rise of the religious-Right everywhere and freethinkers being killed and imprisoned by Islamist states & mob violence?

Marieme Helie Lucas: We are undoubtedly living in a very difficult period of time and we are likely heading towards an even more difficult one. Political clarity is badly needed. The first step would be to fully understand and expose the political nature of the religious-Right, of its programme and its undemocratic theocratic goals.

This conference will give a voice to those who are slaughtered by the religious-Right. Their voice is never heard. All we can do is speak up for their rights … and try and defend ours, here and now.

Maryam Namazie: If anyone feels there is no hope, it is only because they are not familiar with the resistance. Everyone knows Khamenei, Bin Laden, al-Baghdadi but why are Raif Badawi, Avijit Roy, Nadia El Fani, Fauzia Ilyas, Waleed Al Husseini or Zineb el Rhazoui not household names? This conference is the conference of the resistance and resistance to totalitarianism always brings hope.

See the schedule and full list of speakers at the International Conference for Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21st Century.

The conference is sponsored by Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; Atheist International Alliance; Bread and Roses TV; Center for Inquiry; Centre for Secular Space; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Culture Project; Euromind; Equal Rights Now; Fitnah; Freedom from Religion Foundation; National Secular Society; One Law for All; Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science; Southall Black Sisters; and Secularism is a Women’s Issue.

For more information, contact the Conference Organising Committee.

Get your ticket(s) today for the 22-24 July 2017 International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21st Century in Central London.

Letter to Facebook: Prevent religious extremists from censoring atheists and secularists

Petition to Facebook: #LetExmuslimsSpeak – Sign it Today.

Dear Facebook administrators,

We, the undersigned organizations, represent hundreds of thousands of ex-Muslims, secularists, humanists, atheists, and agnostics who are dedicated to safeguarding the universal human rights for freedom of religion, belief, and expression.

Due to abuse of Facebook’s reporting tools, atheist and ex-Muslim organizations and groups find themselves yet again the target of censorship campaigns by religious conservatives. We respectfully ask that Facebook create mechanisms to prevent abuse of its features so that our organizations and groups do not fear unjust restriction and removal.

Following what appears to be a coordinated reporting and flagging campaigns, multiple Facebook Groups and Pages are routinely restricted or shut down. Each time, Facebook claims that the restriction or removal is due to violations of its terms of service and community standards. However, each time, no details are given as to which standards are violated. Sometimes, the decision is overturned after appeals and campaigns, sometimes it is not.
Online spaces like Facebook are the last refuge for many atheists and secularists in the Muslim world. Apostates are persecuted by governments, threatened by fundamentalist theocrats, and murdered by vigilantes all over the Muslim world and beyond. Even in the West, many apostates hide their lack-of-faith from friends and family for fear of retribution and social ostracization.

The internet, however, has provided this vulnerable minority with a sense of community that can be impossible to attain in their everyday lives. Atheists can share their beliefs, spreading their ideas and literature in anonymity – considered by many to be a key factor in the rise of atheist visibility in the Muslim world. Facebook in particular has been a boon to community-building efforts among persecuted minorities around the world. In fact, the greater the persecution faced by the group, the more vital the online connectivity and activism.

However, even online, our groups maintain a precarious position, as coordinated attacks using Facebook’s reporting tools are simple and effective. The same social media which empowers religious minorities is susceptible to abuse by religious fundamentalists to enforce what are essentially the equivalent of online blasphemy laws. A simple English-language search reveals hundreds of public Groups and Pages on Facebook explicitly dedicated to this purpose – giving their members easy-to-follow instructions on how to report public groups and infiltrate private ones.

Attacks of this nature are not new. Arab atheists, Bangladeshi secularists, and numerous other groups have been under attack for years, as religious conservatives in the Muslim world learn to abuse Facebook’s reporting system to their advantage. Early last year, multiple atheist and secularist groups were targeted with mass, coordinated infiltration and reporting – leading to the closure of many groups. These groups were eventually restored, but only after a lengthy and sustained effort by organizers to draw public attention to the issue.

However, they, along with dozens of other atheist and ex-Muslim groups and organizations, remain vulnerable to future harassment and targeted campaigns, and many face regular cycles of removal, appeal, and restoration.

So long as the procedures for reporting are liable to be easily misused, the most vulnerable groups will again find themselves without the support and connectivity so vital to their existence and growth.

We, the undersigned, request that Facebook take measures to improve their reporting mechanisms and protect vulnerable groups which rely on its services.

Facebook should create a whitelist for Groups and Pages which are determined as vulnerable to malicious attacks. Reports and flags aimed at these groups should not be handled by automated mechanisms but reviewed and given due consideration by a trained Facebook employee.

Facebook should also penalize individual accounts and groups which are found to have been repeatedly abusing its reporting system.

These measures will help ensure that social media continues to be a valuable asset for empowerment of dissenting and minority voices – we respectfully ask Facebook to develop and implement these measures as soon as possible.

Signed:
Atheist Republic
Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA)
American Atheists
Arab Atheist Network
Association of Mindfulness Meditation
Ateizm Derneği
Atheist Alliance of America
Atheist Alliance International
Black Nonbelievers, Inc.
British Humanist Association (BHA)
Center for Inquiry (CFI)
Central Council of Ex-Muslims
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Council of Ex-Muslims of France
Council for Secular Humanism
Ex-Muslims of Norway
Faith to Faithless
Foundation Beyond Belief
Freethought Action
Freethought Society
Hispanic American Freethinkers
Institute for Humanist Studies
International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
Institute for Science and Human Values, Inc.
Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
Mukto Mona
One Law for All
Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (RDFRS)
Secular Buddhism
Secular Coalition for America
Secular Student Alliance
Society for Humanistic Judaism
The Humanist Community at Harvard
The Humanist Hub
United Coalition of Reason
#VoteSecular
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