In 2006, in the midst of the furor over the publication of Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, Freedom House issued a statement that declared:
At the heart of the cartoon controversy is the right, now and in the future, of an independent and uncensored press—and artists and writers in other venues—to comment on the issues of the day without interference from the state or threat from discomfited or aggrieved groups.
We now find ourselves embroiled in yet another uproar over freedom of expression and the sensitivities of the Muslim world. While the level of violence provoked by the Innocence of Muslims thus far has been notably lower than was the case with the Danish cartoons or, especially, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, the response of the world’s political leadership has often been more disturbing than in the previous episodes.
The recent outbreak of violence in several Muslim-majority countries, ostensibly in response to a malicious amateur video created by anti-Muslim hatemongers, has prompted calls 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 this idea, which has reared its head annually in the form of a resolution condemning the so-called “defamation of religions.” In 2011 we succeeded, only to see the progress quickly reversed as a result of the disparaging Innocence of Muslims video clip and the ensuing violence, which has left dozens of people dead around the world.
Freedom House strongly urges member states of the United Nations to affirm their commitment to free expression at the Third Committee this week by voting against the “Combating Religious Hatred and Vilification of Religions resolution.”