OIC Rebuke of "Defamation of Religions" Welcomed

Freedom House welcomes several recent statements by representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) affirming that the group will no longer support the problematic concept of “defamation of religions” despite growing pressure from some Muslim countries to pursue a global ban on blasphemy or religious insult.

In recent public comments, both the OIC Secretary General, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ufuk Gokun, stated that continued support of UN resolution 16/18 is the best way to combat religious intolerance and discrimination.  These statements reaffirmed the 57-member organization’s stated commitment to freedom of thought and expression by upholding the resolution rather than by pursuing an international ban through the United Nations. The remarks by the OIC top leadership come after recent outbreaks of violence in several Muslim-majority countries, ostensibly in response to a malicious amateur video created by anti-Muslim hatemongers. The outrage over the insulting video has prompted calls for an international law to formally restrict speech that insults or does not “respect” religions and prophets.

“Freedom House, along with many other human rights and free expression organizations, has spent years attempting to turn the tide of opinion at the United Nations against the ‘defamation of religions’ idea and are hopeful that these statements will put to rest attempts to resurrect this problematic concept,” said Courtney C. Radsch, senior program manager for the Global Freedom of Expression Campaign at Freedom House. “We hope that member states take note of the OIC’s opposition to legislation that restricts freedom of expression, opinion and belief.”

From 1999 through 2010, the OIC put forward a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council that urged states to prevent the “defamation of religions” by restricting the right to criticize religious figures and symbols, and each year it passed. However, in 2011, members of the UN Human Rights Council found compromise in the form of Resolution 16/18, which replaced the “defamation of religions” resolution,  and rather called upon states to take concrete steps to protect religious freedom, prohibit discrimination and hate crimes, and counter offensive expression through dialogue, education, and public debate rather than criminalization of speech. The resolution passed, with support from both OIC member countries and Western countries, including the United States.

Learn more:

Policing Belief: The Impact of Blasphemy Laws on Human Rights

Blog: Hypocrisy Goes Global in the Blasphemy Law Campaign

Blog: The Trouble with Blasphemy Laws