Once again the The United Nations Human Rights Council has revealed itself to be anything but, passing a resolution in a 23-11 vote condemning the “defamation of religions” and urging nation states to pass laws to stifle criticism of religion. Yes, that’s right, in the 21st century the United Nations is onboard in support of the worst sort of anti-blasphemy laws.
The Center for Inquiry issued a press release denouncing the resolution, saying,
“The concept of ‘defamation of religions’ is both absurd and dangerous.” said Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI’s president and chief executive officer. “Legally speaking, it’s gibberish, and any ban on so-called ‘defamation’ would effectively prevent any critique of religious beliefs or practices.”
In the opinion of a broad range of civil society organizations, these pronouncements do nothing but lend legitimacy to the repression of political and religious dissent around the world, particularly in Islamic countries. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, for example, which carry mandatory sentences of death or life imprisonment, are frequently used against members of the Ahmaddiya community, a peaceful minority Muslim sect.
Through its UN representative, Dr. Austin Dacey, CFI participated in the negotiations over the resolution during the March session of the Council in Geneva, and delivered an oral statement before the plenary meeting on March 24. Most worrisome, according to CFI, is that the present language equates religiously insulting speech with “advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence,” a category of speech that is prohibited by existing treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which have the force of law.
“Now the argument becomes very awkward for Europe,” said Dacey, “since many European states have laws against hate speech, Holocaust denial, and even blasphemy (for example, in Austria) that have been upheld by their regional human rights courts. The Islamic states will say they simply want to extend the same protection to all beliefs.”
Botswana is generally considered one of the more democratic African nations. Now if you’re a generally democratic nation how do you go about demonstrating your devotion to democratic principles? Well, of course you try to deport a college professor critical of your country.
In February, Botswana President Festus Mogae declared University of Botswana lecturer Kenneth Good to be an “prohibited immigrant” and ordered him deported to his native Australia. Good is being allowed to remain in Botswana while he appeals the deportation order.
The irony here is what Good said that set Mogae off. Good gave a lecture in which he claimed that rather than being democratic, Botswana is run by a secret elite with a few people making all of the decisions. Specifically, he alleged that presidential succession in Botswana is managed by backdoor wheeling and dealing. Obviously having the president initiate a deportation order against Good really disproved that!
Good, for his part, has a habit of being booted out of African countries. According to Reuters, the minority white government of what was then called Rhodesia also deported him in 1973 after he criticized government policies.
Prof. Good Allowed to Stay in Botswana Until Deportation Case is Discussed. Network for Education and Academic Rights, March 7, 2005.
Botswana lecturer wins reprieve. The BBC, February 28, 2005.
Toward the end of 2004, China launched another crackdown against Internet cafes in that country, closing almost 13,000 of them that were operating “illegally.”
China sets out strict guidelines for Internet cafes, limiting the types of computer games and content that can be accessed, and requiring strict identity checks and the keeping of automated logs to track the activities of people while they are accessing the Internet at one of the cafes. Those log files are then sent to China’s Public Security Bureau.
This latest crackdown was apparently motivated by concerns that children were spending time playing violent videogames rather than attending class, but it also has the added effect of furthering the Chinese governments control over its citizens access to information the government does not approve of.
China net cafe culture crackdown. The BBC, February 14, 2005.
Â‘WangbaÂ’ crusade. Red Herring, February 17, 2005.
Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara was murdered in December 2004 in what Reporters Without Borders claimed was a well-organized operation that bears a resemblance to the murders of other journalists in that country.
Hydara, who edited Gambia’s Point newspaper and worked for Agence-France Presse and with Reporters Without Borders, was an outspoken opponent of new laws designed to curtail freedom of expression in Gambia. The laws allow journalists to be jailed for up to six months for writing ‘libelous’ articles. In order to publish in Gambia at all, newspapers have to prove to the satisfaction of the government that they have the finances to pay new fines the government has also instituted for ‘libelous’ articles.
Leonard Vincent, who heads up Reporters Without Borders’ African unit, told The BBC, that witnesses to Hydara’s killing were afraid to talk to police and that an independent commission was needed to look into his murder.
In addition, according to the African Independent newspaper, both the business offices and homes of prominent newspaper editor and journalists have been the targets of a series of arsons over the past few years. So far, no one has been arrested in connection with any of the arsons.
It is, of course, difficult for countries to overcome poverty and corruption when government’s and their allies can slap odious restrictions on newspapers and kill reporters with impunity.
‘Hitmen killed Gambia journalist’. The BBC, January 6, 2005.
AFP and Reporters Without Borders correspondent gunned down in Banjul. Press Release, Reporters Without Borders, December 17, 2004.
Veteraln Jouranlist Shot Dead in The Gambia. African Independent, December 17, 2004.
The American Civil Liberties Union is once again demonstrating its committment to free speech by asking a judge to gag the Omaha World Herald. The Herald wants to publish the name of a man who sued Plattsmouth, Neb., over a Ten Commandments monument there. The ACLU, in turn, has suddenly got that old time prior restraint religion.
The ACLU claims that the man has received anonymous threats and publishing his name could subject him to further threats. But as Omaha World Herald executive editor Larry King notes,
King said The World-Herald is not at the point of publishing any article identifying the man. But if newspapers made publication decisions based on anonymous threats, King said, they would have to quit writing about “everyone from football coaches to politicians.”
“This is not a case in which an individual, through no fault or action of his own, found himself in the middle of a dispute,” King said. “This man is trying to force a city to make a controversial change it doesn’t want to make. If you want to change public policy, it should not be a surprise that you could be publicly identified.”
I guess the ACLU must still be stinging from its loss in its suit to protect the rights of teens to attend nudist camps without parental supervision.
ACLU requests restraint on press. Todd Cooper, Omaha World Herald, September 21, 2004.
Parental rule upheld for teen nudist camp. Associated Press, August 10, 2004.