On Sunday (25th September), Christian writer and political activist, Nahed Hattar, was murdered on the steps of a law court in Jordan after having shared a satirical cartoon mocking an ISIS soldier and his beliefs. Hattar was on his way to attend a court hearing because of the cartoon. He had turned himself in in mid-August to the Amman governor after the government ordered an investigation into the caricature issue, since it was deemed offensive to Islam. He remained in custody until two weeks ago when he was released on bail.
Hattar’s family reported that the writer was given no protection by the authorities despite having received hundreds of death threats after he shared the cartoon on Facebook.
“We handed over 200 names to the governor [of Amman], including that of the assassin, and demanded protection […] But he refused, saying there was ‘no real threat’” said Khaled Hattar, brother of Hattar.
Hattar’s was one of the cases the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) raised at the UN Human Rights Council this week.
In a statement supported by The Raif Badawi Foundation, Arab Humanists and Adhoc organization, IHEU representative, Kacem El Ghazzali, argued that blasphemy laws run in diametric opposition to the fundamental right to free expression. He noted, “We can only promote the right to free expression and plurality of opinions by abolishing all blasphemy and apostasy laws. Such laws not only violate freedom of speech and belief, but legitimize hate speech, mob violence and persecution of minorities.”
In his statement, El Ghazzali also raised other cases of concern to the IHEU; that of Sayyed Al Qemany, who has recently been prosecuted for blasphemy in Egypt and Morocco’s introduction of an anti-blasphemy law.
The statement follows in full, below:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
UN Human Rights Council, 33rd Session (13th – 30th September 2016)
General Debate: Item 8
Kacem El Ghazzali
This statement is supported by The Raif Badawi Foundation, Arab Humanists and Adhoc organization
Over 20 years ago, the Vienna declaration set out the need for states to take “all appropriate measures to counter intolerance and violence based on religion and belief […] recognizing that every individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, expression and religion.”
Despite this, we continue to witness and report religious intolerance and systematic persecution against freethinkers and non-believers.
Egypt: Following comments on Islamist Violence, the writer Sayyed Al Qemany has recently been prosecuted for ‘blasphemy’.
Jordan: Nahed Hattar a writer who was arrested for posting a cartoon deemed offensive to Islam has been shot dead.
Morocco: The country that hosted the adoption of Rabat Plan of Action, which recommends the repeal of blasphemy laws, joined recently the club of countries legalizing anti- blasphemy laws by introducing article 267 in the penal code which criminalizes any criticism of Islam in any form.
We can only promote the right to free expression and plurality of opinions by abolishing all blasphemy and apostasy laws. Such laws not only violate freedom of speech and belief, but legitimize hate speech, mob violence and persecution of minorities.
A state has no right to be concerned about what people believe or think, rather it should guarantee the right to think and express one’s opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation or censorship.
We object fundamentally to the notion that “blasphemy” should be treated as a criminal offense, and we call on all the states mentioned above through this council to comply with their human rights obligations, and abolish all blasphemy laws.