Freedom House welcomes the release of Rimsha Masih on bail of one million rupees ($10,500) after being accused of blasphemy for allegedly burning pages with verses of the Koran. We remain gravely concerned for her safety and that of her family and call on authorities to ensure their protection as they continue to receive death threats and are in hiding.
The Pakistani government’s efforts to increase internet censorship have reached worrying heights with the release of a request for proposals to build a system capable of blocking millions of URLs, according to Freedom House.
In its International Religious Freedom Report issued on September 13, the U.S. State Department failed to designate Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) despite the significant deterioration of religious freedom in the country. Iran, China Saudi Arabia, Burma, Eritrea, North Korea, Sudan and Uzbekistan were noted in the report as having governments that “engage in or tolerate ‘particularly severe violations’ of religious freedom, where the abuses are “egregious, ongoing, and systematic.” In a May 2011 letter, Freedom House joined other human rights groups in calling on the State Department to designate Pakistan a CPC given the pervasive violence against religious minorities and the impunity that is enjoyed by militant groups. The State Department’s decision to leave Pakistan off the list sends the wrong signal to those that espouse religious intolerance and undermines the message that the Pakistani authorities are obligated to protect their citizens and uphold the rule of law.
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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