BHA speaks out against blasphemy laws at UN Human Rights Council

9 March, 2016

Cordelia Tucker O’Sullivan speaking earlier today.
Cordelia Tucker O’Sullivan speaking earlier today.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has this afternoon spoken out against blasphemy laws at the UN Human Rights Council. BHA representative Cordelia Tucker O’Sullivan condemned the fact that 55 states outlaw blasphemy, 39 imprison people for it and in six it carries the death penalty – and 15 of these states are members of the Council. The BHA’s calls echo that made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt in his last annual report before a new Rapporteur is appointed.

In his report, Professor Bielefeldt recommends that ‘States that still have blasphemy laws should repeal them, as such laws may fuel intolerance, stigmatization, discrimination and incitement to violence and discourage intergroup communication.’ He explains that ‘While human beings — and indeed all of them — should receive recognition and legal protection in their freedom to believe and practise in the ways they see appropriate, blasphemy laws typically single out certain religions for special protection, thus not only encroaching on freedom of expression but also on freedom of religion or belief, in particular of members of religious minorities, converts, critics, atheists, agnostics, internal dissidents and others. Abundant experience in a number of countries demonstrates that blasphemy laws do not contribute to a climate of religious openness, tolerance, non-discrimination and respect. To the contrary, they often fuel stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination and incitement to violence.’

In her statement, which was made as part of the interactive dialogue on Professor Bielefeldt’s report, Ms Tucker O’Sullivan said that:

In Russia, a law was passed as recently as 2013 which punishes ‘public actions… committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers’ with fines of up to $15,000 US dollars, and imprisonment for up to three years. This followed the arrest of the punk art group Pussy Riot for a protest performance in Moscow’s main cathedral. Therefore, the law can arguably be regarded as a tool for the wider silencing of political dissent and human rights advocacy. As recently as last week, Viktor Krasnov appeared in court charged under the law; his lawyer insists his client is ‘simply an atheist’.

The Rabat Plan of Action provides an excellent framework for States to use in defending and promoting freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. We encourage all States to adhere to its advice, as well as that contained in the Special Rapporteur’s most recent report, and would welcome monitoring of its implementation.


For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns at or on 0773 843 5059.

Read the BHA’s statement:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethically and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion of belief.