UN Special Rapporteur criticises Blasphemy law

  • Ahmed Shahedd, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of Religion and Belief has called for the scrapping of blasphemy laws and states they are not compatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by the UK in 1968.
  • Scotland currently retains the common law offence of Blasphemy, England and Wales scrapped their common law offence in 2008 and the Scottish Justice Minister stated in a letter in 2017 that he did not intend to scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy law.
  • UN Rapporteur’s report states “the use of anti-blasphemy and anti-apostasy laws amount to a de facto ban on the manifestation of humanism and non-religious beliefs.”
  • Humanist Society Scotland has invited Ahmed Shahedd to Scotland later this year to speak on his report findings at a public event.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, has published his annual report. The report is particularly critical of anti-blasphemy and anti-apostasy laws and the effects they have on those with non-religious beliefs, stating that such laws “should be repealed immediately.”

Dr Ahmed Shaheed

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

Scotland still has a Blasphemy offence in common law, and while there has not been a successful prosecution in over a hundred years, this so-called “dead letter law” does have an impact. Countries around the world who actively use Blasphemy laws to persecute non-religious and minority religious people, such as Pakistan, have used European “dead letter laws” to defend their actions.

Humanist Society Scotland is currently leading a campaign to end this outdated law in Scotland and raise awareness of persecution abroad in the name of such laws. Blasphemy laws were scrapped in England and Wales in 2008, Iceland and Norway in 2015, Malta in 2016 and Denmark in 2017, showing such a change is not without merit.

Commenting on the special rapporteurs report, Humanist Society Scotland’s chief executive Gordon MacRae said:

“Blasphemy and apostasy laws are being actively used around the world to kill and lock up atheists, Humanists and members of minority religious groups because they do not conform to the mainstream view of some political leaders. The fact that Scotland maintains it’s outdated Blasphemy law and the Scottish Government has refused to scrap it when asked should be an embarrassment for those in Holyrood. We can’t allow Scotland’s Blasphemy law to be used as a footnote in the legal text of countries that persecute atheists and others.

“I hope that Ahmed Shahedd’s report will be a new added pressure on the government to act and take moral leadership on this matter, and we hope that the Government will agree to meet with Mr Shahedd when he visits Scotland later in the year at the invite of the Humanist Society.

Gordon MacRae, Humanist Society Chief Executive

“Humanist Society Scotland will again raise this matter with ministers and ask for the Parliament’s cross party group on Freedom of Religion or Belief about how Scotland can support the UN’s special rapporteurs recommendation to make all Blasphemy laws around the world a thing of the past and thereby protect vulnerable people.”

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