Joint statement & seminar at UN three human rights organization expose violations against freedom of expression under alleged of protection of religion from defamation

In International Advocacy Program by

Press release

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), in collaboration with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the Article 19 Organization, participated in the 9th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which took place from 8-26 September 2008 and offered oral interventions about the violations to the freedoms of expression, religion, and belief committed by governments in the name of resisting the “defamation of religions”.

The three organization expressed their deep concerns about the resolution adopted by both the HRC and General Assembly about resisting the “defamation of religions” that could potentially allow governments in the Arab regions to abuse it in applying more restrictions on the freedom of expression. The interventions also provided some examples illustrating the consequences such practices that manipulate the issue of the “defamation of religion” in order to constrain the freedom of expression, to suppress religious freedoms, and to impose more censorship and forced ‘guidance’ on all forms of freedom of expression under the pretext that these freedoms either do not respect or do not adequately appreciate religion. For instance, this has happened with the novel of “Awlad Haritna” (Children of Our Quarter) by the Egyptian novelist Nagiub Mahfouz, who was accused of atheism and apostasy. The same also occurred recently with writer Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid whose work involved the re-interpretation of the Quran. There are many other examples in this context throughout the region, including the intolerant reaction towards Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish’s “Ana Yousif Ya Abi” (Oh my Father, I am Yusif) and sung by Marcel Khalife, who had a lawsuit was filed against him under the allegation of improperly using the Quran verses. The most recent example was the lawsuit against the Egyptian blogger, Karim Amer, who has been put in jail because of his political and religious opinions for which he was accused with incitement against Islam.

The three organizations above have also held a symposium, attended by representatives of many countries and international organizations, about the issue of defamation religions and its manipulation by States to constrain the freedom of expression. The symposium took place in 17 September 2008, and the speakers were Dr. Sigal Barma, the legal consultant of Article 19, Hossam Bahgat, the Director of EIPR, and Moataz Al-Fegiery, the Executive Director of CIHRS. The event included 48 participants and 6 representatives of different countries and tackled the impacts of the religious constraints and allegations about “contempt of religion” on the freedom of expression, particularly in the Arab region. It also included a discussion about the attempts of constraining the freedom of expression that done on the regional level, such as the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, the Arab Charter for Human Rights, and the Regional Document of Audio and Visual Dissemination. Also discussed were the legal forms taking shape at the legislative level, including some of the laws recently issued, including the laws against blasphemy, the charges of infidelity, and the abuse of religious institutions. The final discussions dealt with the issue of fatwas (a religious opinion by an Islamic scholar) which have allowed the murder of the owner of satellite TV channels because they allegedly disseminate immoral materials.


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