Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for a religious deity or the irreverence towards religious or holy persons or things. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy 



Pew Research Center: The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life





Pakistani Christians hold crosses during a September 2012 protest against an Islamic cleric who accused a Christian teenager of blasphemy.

Several recent incidents have drawn international attention to laws and policies prohibiting blasphemy – remarks or actions considered to be contemptuous of God or the divine. In a highly publicized case last summer, for example, a 14-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan was arrested and detained for several weeks after she was accused of burning pages from the Quran.1 In neighboring India, a man reputed to be a religious skeptic is facing blasphemy charges because he claimed a statue of Jesus venerated by Mumbai’s Catholic community for its miraculous qualities is a fake.2 The man reportedly is staying in Europe to avoid prosecution.3 In Greece, a man was arrested and charged with blasphemy after he posted satirical references to an Orthodox Christian monk on Facebook.4 

blasphemy-1Pakistan, India and Greece are not alone in actively pursuing blasphemy prosecutions. A new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that as of 2011 nearly half of the countries and territories in the world (47%) have laws or policies that penalize blasphemy, apostasy (abandoning one’s faith) or defamation (disparagement or criticism of particular religions or religion in general). Of the 198 countries studied, 32 (16%) have anti-blasphemy laws, 20 (10%) have laws penalizing apostasy and 87 (44%) have laws against the defamation of religion, including hate speech against members of religious groups.   

As an extension of its continuing research on restrictions on religion around the world, the Pew Forum counted and categorized (“coded”) reports of the presence of these laws in 2011.5 The coding relied on 19 widely cited, publicly available sources from groups such as the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group.6 Although it is possible that more laws penalizing blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion exist than are reported by the 19 primary sources, taken together the sources are sufficiently comprehensive to provide a good estimate of the presence of these laws in almost all countries.7 

This is the second time the Pew Forum has analyzed laws against blasphemy, apostasy and defamation of religion as part of its ongoing study of global restrictions on religion.8 However, the original study, which covered the period from mid-2006 to mid-2009, looked only at the number of countries that had laws against blasphemy, apostasy or defamation; it did not look at each type of law separately. In addition, the first study did not include hate speech laws. By contrast, this analysis uses a broader definition of defamation that includes laws against hate speech aimed at religious groups. Laws against the defamation of religion and religious hate speech overlap to some extent, but, in general, defamation refers to the disparagement or criticism of a religion while hate speech refers to words or actions that vilify, disparage or intimidate a person or group based on religion.

The previous study found that countries that have laws against blasphemy, apostasy or defamation also are more likely to have high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion than countries that do not have such laws. This does not mean that laws against blasphemy, apostasy and defamation of religion necessarily cause higher restrictions on religion. But they do suggest that the two phenomena often go hand-in-hand: countries with laws against blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion also tend to have higher government restrictions on religion and higher social hostilities involving religion.

Regional Patterns  

blasphemy-2In calendar year 2011, a total of 32 countries (16%) had laws penalizing blasphemy (remarks or actions considered to be contemptuous of God). Anti-blasphemy laws are particularly common in the Middle East and North Africa; 13 of the 20 countries in that region (65%) make blasphemy a crime. In the Asia-Pacific region, nine of the 50 countries (18%) had anti-blasphemy laws in 2011, while in Europe such laws were found in eight out of 45 countries (18%). Just two of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Nigeria and Somalia – had such laws as of 2011. (See table for a list of countries in each region that had anti-blasphemy laws.)

blasphemy-3In 2011, a total of 20 countries across the globe prohibited apostasy (abandoning one’s faith, including by converting to another religion). Such measures were in effect in more than half the countries in the Middle East-North Africa region (11 of 20, or 55%) as well as in five of the 50 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (10%) and four of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (8%). Laws against apostasy were not present in any country in Europe or the Americas.

Laws against defamation of religion were far more common worldwide than laws against blasphemy and apostasy. As of 2011, 87 countries (44%) had a law, rule or policy at some level of government forbidding defamation of religion or hate speech against members of religious groups.

Laws against the defamation of religion were most common in Europe, where 36 of the region’s 45 countries (80%) had such laws or policies in 2011. In most of these countries, these laws tended to penalize religious hate speech rather than defamation of religion. In the Middle East and North Africa, by contrast,15 of the 20 countries (75%) had such laws and most tended to penalize defamation of religion while relatively few penalized religious hate speech directed at specific persons or groups.

In the three other major geographic regions covered in this analysis, a third or fewer countries had laws against the defamation of religion, including religious hate speech. Such laws were found in 17 of the 50 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (34%), 13 of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (27%) and six of the 35 countries in the Americas (17%), including Brazil and Canada. 


This analysis was written by Brian J. Grim, Senior Researcher and Director of Cross-National Data, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Research assistance was provided by Angelina Theodorou, Research Assistant, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.  


1 The girl was released after an imam at a local mosque was accused of planting evidence against her. See “Bail Allowed for Christian Girl Accused of Blasphemy in Pakistan,” The Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/bail-allowed-for-christian-girl-accused-of-blasphemy-in-pakistan/2012/09/07/abcc51be-f8d7-11e1-a073-78d05495927c_story.html. On Nov. 20, 2012, a Pakistani court ordered all charges against the girl dropped. See “High Court Rejects Case Against Girl in Pakistan,” The New York Times, Nov. 20, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/21/world/asia/pakistan-court-orders-blasphemy-charges-against-christian-girl-dropped.html. (return to text) 

2 See “Christ Statue in Mumbai Prompts Blasphemy Spat,” The Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2012, http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2012/05/15/religion-journal-christ-statue-in-mumbai-prompts-blasphemy-spat/. (return to text) 

3 See Friendly Atheist, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/06/19/an-update-on-sanal-edamaruku/; New Humanist Blog, http://blog.newhumanist.org.uk/2012/11/sanal-edamaruku-event-in-london-21_12.html; Free Thought Blogs, http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/11/19/where-is-sanal-edamaruku-now/comment-page-1/. (return to text) 

4 See “Blasphemy in Democracy’s Birthplace? Greece Arrests Facebook User,” The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 2, 2012, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2012/1002/Blasphemy-in-democracy-s-birthplace-Greece-arrests-Facebook-user. (return to text) 

5 The Pew Forum’s latest findings on global restrictions on religion can be found in its September 2012 report “Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion,” http://www.pewforum.org/Government/Rising-Tide-of-Restrictions-on-Religion.aspx. (return to text) 

6 For a full list of sources, see Appendix 1: Methodology of “Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion,” http://www.pewforum.org/Government/Rising-Tide-of-Restrictions-on-Religion-methodology.aspx#info. (return to text) 

7 Although the sources used for this study did not indicate that the U.S. had blasphemy laws in 2011, several U.S. states, including Massachusetts, Michigan and Oklahoma, still had anti-blasphemy laws on the books. (return to text) 

8 See the Laws Against Blasphemy, Apostasy and Defamation section of the Pew Forum’s 2011 report “Rising Restrictions on Religion,” http://www.pewforum.org/Government/Rising-Restrictions-on-Religion(6).aspx. (return to text) 

Photo Credit: © NADEEM KHAWER/epa/Corbis


Human Rights Without Frontiers


Woman Teacher in Egypt Sentenced for 'Defaming' Islam

Christian fined beyond ability to pay; civil trial looms

Morning Star News (11.06.2013) - A judge in Upper Egypt found a Christian teacher guilty of defaming Islam today and levied a massive fine against her after prohibiting her lawyers from presenting a single witness during the trial.

Dimyana Obeid Abd Al-Nour escaped jail time, but she was fined 100,000 Egyptian pounds (US$14,270), far beyond her ability to pay.

She is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her father, Ebed Abd Al-Nour, told Morning Star News. He said his daughter did nothing wrong.

"I am very upset right now by the sentence," he said. "My daughter is innocent and should not have been given such a sentence."

He then became overcome with emotion and declined to comment further.

Al-Nour a 24-year-old, first-year teacher in Egypt, made less than US$300 a month before she lost her position in the wake of the accusations against her. Her family is poor, and she could be sent to jail for failure to pay a court-ordered fine if unable to find the money.

Muslims created a clamor in the courtroom that put intense pressure on the judge, said a human rights advocate who was surprised that the guilty verdict did not send her to prison.

"I personally was expecting a prison sentence, but thank God she was only given a fine," said Mohammed Noubi, a human rights advocate with the Luxor office of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). "There was a lot of pressure and uproar inside the courtroom."

On April 10, three elementary schoolchildren at Sheikh Sultan Primary School in the village of Al-Edisat, Luxor Province, along with their parents and some teachers, complained to the school administration that Al-Nour had made blasphemous comments while teaching. Two days earlier, while teaching a class about history and religion, she discussed pharaoh Amenhotep IV, later known as Akhenaten, who did away with all other Egyptian gods in favor of sun worship in ancient Egypt (see Morning Star News, May 15).

Al-Nour also reportedly expressed her admiration for the former head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the late Pope Shenouda III, in class. In some versions of the alleged incident, she also made comparisons between Shenouda and Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Three students said she made a gesture expressing disgust with Muhammad.

When the complaint was made, a group of head teachers and parents, known as the School Council, conducted an investigation into the allegations. They found there wasn't any reliable evidence that Al-Nour had committed any offense, according to EIPR sources.

When the students were questioned, three of them said she had said or done something wrong. But the three students' versions of what gesture Al-Nour allegedly made and what she allegedly said did not match up, according to EIPR. Also, the rest of the students in the class, 10 in all, said Al-Nour was blameless and never even mentioned the late pope or Muhammad.

A survey of the staff at the school revealed that she was widely respected by her colleagues, according to EIPR.

The School Council's report was turned into the provincial governor's office and to the legal department of the local office of the national Ministry of Education, which then conducted its own investigation; like the School Council, it found no crime had been committed. By chance, a school inspector happened to be monitoring the class Al-Nour was teaching but found nothing wrong with her instruction.

The case likely would have been dropped, but two attorneys representing the parents of one student went directly to the prosecutor's office, obligating officials to conduct their own investigation. In what are known as "hisba cases," Egyptian law allows citizens to file lawsuits against anyone who has transgressed the "exalted right of God." Many blasphemy cases are filed in such a manner.

In court, Al-Nour's lawyers were prepared to bring three crucial witnesses, including Mustafa Mikki, principal of the school. In an interview with the Coptic weekly Al-Watani, Mikki, a Muslim, said that those who brought the charges against Al-Nour were "fanatics."

He also confirmed that none of the stories of the three children who accused Al-Nour matched. But the judge in Al-Nour's case, Muhammad Al-Tamawy, would not let Mikki or anyone else testify on her behalf.

Noubi, who has helped Al-Nour's legal team for EIPR, said that in addition to the fine, Al-Nour has now been referred to a civil court, as one of the complaining parents has filed a lawsuit against her. In order for damages to be awarded in the civil case, Al-Nour first must have been convicted of a crime. It is unknown how much money is sought in the civil case.

Al-Nour, who has attended only one of her hearings, remains in hiding. According to EIPR, the courtroom and surrounding area was swarming with conservative Muslims protesting against her during the hearing she attended.

Since then, she has been too sick to attend any of the hearings, according to human rights activists and her family. Al-Nour was arrested and held for two days, until her family was able to post bail with the help from the church.

Noubi said her lawyers plan to appeal.

The accusations against Al-Nour reflect a growing trend in Egypt of disproportionate use of the nation's blasphemy statutes against members of Egypt's Christian minority since the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi came into power in June 2012, according to human rights advocates.


Asian Human Rights Commission - AHRC



Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-146-2012 - 19 August 2012

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that a minor Christian girl, Miss Ramsha, 11, was arrested on the charges of blasphemy when she burned some copies of newspapers which were collected from the garbage. The Muslim population of the slum area attacked her house and beat her mother and sister and also burned some houses of Christians. The police arrested the mother and her two daughters and immediately sent Ramsha to Adiala prison illegally as according to law minors below the age of 15 years cannot be sent to prison or detained in police lockup. After her arrest police took the custody of her mother and sister and their whereabouts are unknown. Police say that both mother and daughter are in the protective custody because of the apprehension of their killing by the Muslim activists. However, the Christian community suspect that they were handed over the Muslim activists and that their lives may be in serious danger.

The Christian population has already vacated the area. The Christians living in other slums area are also scared and demanded from the authorities for their protection but no action has been taken about their protection.


Miss Ramsha, 11, mentally retarded, daughter of Misraf Masih, was residing at Hameera abadi, sector G-8, Islamabad with a sizeable number of Christians, and was collecting used papers from the garbage for night cooking as there is no gas connections and poor people depend on burning wood. When, after sunset she was burning the copies of newspapers, collected from the garbage, a Muslim lady entered her house and started shouting that Ramsha is burning the papers from holy Quran. At that time her elder sister, Mashal, 14, was at home and her father and mother were out for their work. At this moment both sisters told the Muslim crowd, which was gathered after listening the shouting from Muslim lady, that the papers were from garbage and those are from newspapers but the crowd started beating them and suddenly their mother also arrived and she was also beaten. The other Christian residents also tried to settle the issue but they were beaten as well. Both sisters and her mother received injuries and in the meanwhile the owner of the house, a Muslim man, arrived and called the police in an effort to save the Christians.

Police took the mother and her two daughters into custody. A first information report (FIR) was filed in the Ramna police station in which Miss Ramsha was made the main accused of blasphemy. But police arrested all the three. Seeing the tension in the area as Muslim activists on the instigation from the mosques started attacking and burning the Christian houses, Ramna police immediately sent the minor to the notorious Adiala prison and kept her mother and sister in the women police station for some time. When activists tried to gather outside the Ramna police station, the police shifted both mother and sister to some unknown place and according to police this action was taken for their safety. But the father of the victims and other Christians are suspicious and it was accused that both mother and daughter have been taken away by some militants.

The Christians from different slums areas of the Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, have started leaving their communities and apprehend that their houses would be attacked and burned. The Islamabad administration has yet not taken any action to protect the Christian population.

It is also accused by Christian population that some powerful persons want to grab the Christian dominated areas for commercial purposes and use by Muslim activists.


Currently, extreme militant Muslim organisations may use blasphemy laws as a way to pressure and oppress religious minority groups. So far, the government has failed to protect the lives and property of the minority community. Although there is formal protection in place for religious minorities in the Constitution and although the blasphemy law has made it compulsory that no police officer below the rank of Superintendent of Police can investigate the charges, these statutes are rarely respected.

Religious minority groups in Pakistan remain vulnerable due to the continued use and abuse of blasphemy charges, despite section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code. The police, who fail to follow the code and who operate under the directives of extremists in the community, must face strong legal action. Charges of blasphemy are still met with the death penalty in Pakistan.

The deliberate institutionalisation of Islam’s status as protected and predominant promoted the perpetuation of religious intolerance by Islamic fundamentalists. According to data collected through different sources at least 1030 persons were charged under these anti-blasphemy clauses from 1986 to August 2009, while over 30 persons were killed extra-judicially by angry mobs or individuals.

Militant Muslim organisations are using blasphemy as a tool as the best way to keep religious minority groups under pressure and even forcibly take land. The State is failing to protect the lives and property of the minority community.