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Freedom of expression vs. defamation of religions: Protecting individuals or protecting religions?

Freedom of expression vs. defamation of religions: Protecting individuals or protecting religions?

Date Published: 
Friday, 3 March, 2017
Summary: 

In 2005 the  sparked a heated international debate on the relationship between free speech and protection against religious discrimination. Whilst such tensions continue to be a source of conflict in the UN today, Marie Juul Petersen and Heini í Skorini look at what lies behind the actions of one of the key players in this debate, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“Freedom of expression does not justify in any way whatsoever the defamation of religions.”  The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an intergovernmental umbrella organisation of 57 Muslim-majority states, was unequivocal in its condemnation of the Danish Muhammad cartoons, published in a press release a few months after the cartoons had been printed in the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten in September 2005.

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The OIC is also alarmingly quiet when it comes to discrimination, intolerance and outright persecution in the organisation’s own member states. No OIC countries have criticised Saudi Arabia’s ban on churches. Nobody has directed attention to the increasing violence against Hindus in Malaysia. Nobody has spoken out against Egyptian newspapers for printing anti-Semitic cartoons. Nobody has criticized the many victims of the strictly enforced blasphemy laws in powerful OIC member states such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and Egypt. Not even clear examples of discrimination of Muslim minorities in OIC member states can bring the OIC to speak. Sunnis in Iran, Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan and Shias in Saudi Arabia enjoy little protection against discrimination and persecution.