The decision by a Pakistani court to drop blasphemy charges against teenager Rimsha Masih is a positive step but fails to address the larger issue of the continued existence of laws of this kind. Freedom House calls on the Pakistani government to repeal or reform its blasphemy laws so as to better protect its citizens and foster an environment where diverse views can be freely expressed without fear.
The reelection of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council was a positive development in a largely disappointing election by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday, in which seven countries with poor human rights records—Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela—were also elected.
The world was outraged when a 14-year-old girl in Pakistan was shot in the head last week simply for being an ardent advocate for the right of girls to an education. Unfortunately, Malala's case is not an isolated one. In most parts of the world today, individuals and organizations working to advance social, political, and environmental justice face imminent danger as a result of their work. In the past two months alone, a 70-year-old activist in Cambodia was sentenced to 20 years in prison because he challenged the government's policy of confiscating local land for powerful corporate interests; in southern India, police used live ammunition on villagers protesting against a proposed nuclear power plant; a human rights lawyer opposing the creation of special economic development zones was shot dead in Honduras; and in the United Arab Emirates, an outspoken critic of inhumane treatment of political prisoners was assaulted in the street twice and faced government surveillance.
A majority of Americans see democracy in the U.S. as weak and getting weaker, according to a national survey released by The Democracy Project, a joint initiative of Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
Policing Belief: The Impact of Blasphemy Laws on Human Rightsexamines the human rights implications of domestic blasphemy and religious insult laws using the case studies of seven countries—Algeria, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Poland—where such laws exist both on paper and in practice. Without exception, blasphemy laws violate the fundamentalfreedom of expression, as they are by definition intended to protect religious institutions and religious doctrine– i.e., abstract ideas and concepts – from insult or offence. At their most benign, such laws lead to self-censorship. In Greece and Poland, two of the more democratic countries examined in the study, charges brought against high-profile artists, curators and writers serve as a warning to others that certain topics are off limits. At their worst, in countries such as Pakistan and Malaysia, such laws lead to overt governmental censorship and individuals are both prosecuted and subject to severe criminal penalties including lengthy jail sentences.
On May 21, 2008, the UN General Assembly will elect 15 new Human Rights Council members. Twenty countries are candidates. Freedom House and UN Watch evaluated each candidate’s suitability for election to the Human Rights Council by examining its record of human rights protection at home and its record of human rights promotion at the UN.
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