New Pakistani PM Imran Khan pledges to revive UN campaign for global blasphemy laws

30 August, 2018

Imran Khan, the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, has made curtailing freedom of speech a priority policy for his administration by vowing to revive a campaign to impose global blasphemy laws at the UN. Humanists UK has expressed serious concerns that the new administration in Pakistan poses a major threat to human rights and is committed to opposing any new attempt to impose an international blasphemy law.

Speaking on Monday, as the Pakistani Senate pledged to crackdown on social media platforms that allow blasphemous content to be shared, Imran Khan announced that he will take up the issue of a global restriction on criticism of religion at the UN General Assembly in September. Over the past twenty years, several attempts have been made by countries who are members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to raise motions at the United Nations outlawing the criticism of religion. Each of these attempts has been strongly resisted by humanist and other human rights groups, free speech activists, and some religious groups.

In 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee adopted a resolution under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stating ‘prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant… Thus, for instance, it would be impermissible for any such laws to discriminate in favor of or against one or certain religions or belief systems, or their adherents over another, or religious believers over non-believers. Nor would it be permissible for such prohibitions to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.’

Despite this, Khan’s pledge is evidence that his administration is prioritising appeasing domestic religious fundamentalists over its commitment to human rights at home and internationally.

Humanists UK is a founding member of the End Blasphemy Laws campaign and has made numerous interventions at the United Nations Human Rights Council opposing blasphemy laws both at the national and international level, including in Pakistan. Since the founding of the End Blasphemy Laws campaign in 2015, five countries have repealed such restrictions. The Republic of Ireland will hold a referendum on repealing its blasphemy law in October.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘Blasphemy laws are a violation of the human right to freedom of expression. They prevent legitimate and necessary criticism of religious beliefs, leaders, and institutions, and in extreme cases legitimise vigilante violence and state persecution of the non-religious and religious minority groups.

‘Humanists UK and others have fought for many years to oppose attempts to impose such restrictions through the UN and will continue to do so. We are seriously concerned that Imran Khan’s administration, just weeks into office, is already trying to use international blasphemy restrictions as a strongman policy to appease the ultra-conservative and religious fundamentalist factions of Pakistan.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 3675 0959.

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At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.