Humanists UK challenges Austria blasphemy ruling at UN Human Rights Council

5 March, 2019

Rachel Taggart-Ryan at the UN Human Rights Council.

Humanists UK has intervened at the 40th session UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, as part of an ‘interactive dialogue’ with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed. In its intervention, Humanists UK challenged last year’s judgment by the European Court of Human Rights which upheld blasphemy restrictions in Austria.

Humanists UK’s representative Rachel Taggart-Ryan told the UN, ‘Regardless of the details of the case, this judgment sets a very bad precedent by suggesting that European states can decide there is a previously non-existent right to protection for “religious sentiment”. This runs counter to the principles held by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to the spirit and purpose of human rights as an international enterprise.’

In reply to Humanists UK’s question, Dr Shaheed endorsed Ms Taggart-Ryan’s comments, and stated that blasphemy must be seen as a global problem, with many countries around the world having some restriction on ‘defamation of religion’, from those that rarely prosecute to those that impose the death penalty. He also clarified that states must not use hate speech restrictions as de facto blasphemy laws. Hate speech laws must be used to protect rights-holders, not religious beliefs.

Ms Taggart-Ryan also welcomed Dr Shaheed’s latest annual report, which largely focuses on the linkages between freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, and expressly called for the repeal of blasphemy, apostasy, and anti-conversion laws.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read the intervention:

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.