UK Parliament Side Event
Free to Believe or Not: End Criminalization of Apostasy and Blasphemy
Date: 5 July 2022
Opening Remarks by Lord David Alton, Chair of event.
Today’s event, Free to Believe or Not: End Criminalization of Apostasy and Blasphemy, is brought to you by Jubilee Campaign, with collaborative efforts by Set My People Free and Humanists UK.
I am pleased to chair today’s event in my capacity as Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Throughout my many years as an advocate for freedom of religion or belief, I have strived to highlight the multiple religious freedom violations taking place across the world, notably in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tigray, North Korea, Nigeria, and Myanmar.
Today’s event will focus on the nations which impose harsh legal and extralegal punishments upon individuals accused of offending a faith or leaving the majority religion of their nations.
The UN Secretary General, in his annual report on the question of the death penalty, made clear that the death penalty “must never be imposed as a sanction for specific forms of nonviolent conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and consensual same-sex relations.”
Despite this, at least 12 nations continue to maintain the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy, and these countries include: Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and some northern states of Nigeria. In Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, Christians have reported receiving menacing phone calls threatening revenge for their faith.
In Pakistan, tens of Christian converts and Ahmadiyya Muslim minorities are currently on death row for alleged blasphemy. And in one recent and extremely horrific case, 22-year-old Christian university student Deborah Samuel Yakubu was stoned to death and subsequently set on fire by her male classmates after she had criticized her school class WhatsApp group’s focus on religious-related content and had stated that Jesus was the reason she was able to pass her exams. In the weeks following this senseless killing, already two other young Nigerian women have been threatened with death for their public condemnation of Deborah’s murder. Of course, we have observed some remarkable progress in recent years towards the repeal of criminalization of blasphemy and apostasy. In 2020, Sudan’s civilian-led transitional government ratified the Miscellaneous Amendments Act which repealed the crime of apostasy.
However, more must be do bring about a global end to the use of capital punishment for perceived religious offenses. Jubilee Campaign and Set My People Free recommend the insertion of FoRB-specific language into two United Nations General Assembly resolutions that are up for vote again this November: the Resolution on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, and the Resolution for a Moratorium on the Death Penalty. More specifically, they recommend that these resolutions address that “the death penalty can never be imposed as a sanction for non-violent conduct such as apostasy and blasphemy.”
Thank you all once again for your attendance today, and we hope you join our growing call for “Freedom to Believe” and an end to the criminalization of apostasy and blasphemy