Defamation of religion and anti-extremism laws

… global free speech rapporteurs concerned

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From: HREA – Human Rights Education Associates and its Newsletter
Date: 16/12/2008

(an OSCE Press release) … download here the full text of the declaration.

GENEVA/PRETORIA/VIENNA/WASHINGTON DC, 15 December 2008 — The freedom of expression rapporteurs of the United Nations, the OSCE, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) released a joint declaration today on defamation of religions, and anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation.

After meting on 9 December in Athens, the four media freedom ‘watchdogs’ adopted their annual international mechanism for promoting freedom of expression. Toby Mendel, Senior Director for Law at ARTICLE 19, Global Campaign for Free Expression, co-ordinated the drafting process.

“The four global mandates’ annual joint declarations for promoting freedom of expression are an excellent example of international co-operation in the field of human rights advocacy,” said Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. “Just like the OSCE media freedom commitments, these documents are directed at updating international mechanisms on freedom of opinion, expression and the media.”

This year’s document coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and covers the dangers to freedom of speech inherent in national legislation regulating the fight against ‘defamation of religions’ and ‘blasphemy’ laws, as well as against ‘extremism’ or other terrorism-related speech offences.

The signatories agreed that the concept of ‘defamation of religions’ does not accord with international standards accepted by pluralistic and free societies. They said that international organizations should abstain from adopting statements supporting criminalization of ‘defamation of religions’.

They also stressed that restrictions on freedom of expression should never be used to protect institutions, abstract notions, concepts or beliefs, including religious ones, and that such restrictions should be limited in scope to advocacy of hatred.

The four freedom of expression rapporteurs also advised that the definition of terrorism should be restricted to violent crimes which inflict terror on the public, and that vague notions such as ‘providing communications support’ or ‘promoting’ extremism or terrorism should not be criminalized unless they constitute incitement. They said that the role of the media should be respected in anti-extremism and anti-terrorism legislation.

While the vast majority of OSCE participating States have anti-terrorism laws, some of them extend to regulation of public speech. Six participating States – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia and Tajikistan – have adopted anti-extremism laws since 2002.

“This year’s joint declaration may be of important assistance to the authorities of Belarus and Russia which have used their anti-extremism legislation to punish independent journalists and dissenters,” said Haraszti.

Along with Miklos Haraszti, the signatories of the joint declaration are Frank LaRue, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Catalina Botero, OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, and Faith Pansy Tlakula, ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.

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