Pakistan Blasphemy Laws In Ireland
One of the issues that Atheist Ireland has consistently cited while campaigning against the prohibition of blasphemy in Ireland, relates to our international obligations. Pakistan applies the death penalty for blasphemy, and has used verbatim language from Irish law when defending their position from international criticism. The distance between the Irish position and that in Pakistan, needs to consist of more than just the severity of the punishment for a blasphemous utterance. In June of 2017, Atheist Ireland attended the United Nations in Geneva in order to campaign against the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, on behalf of minorities in that country. More recently however, this law in Pakistan has had a direct impact here in Ireland.
A member of Atheist Ireland who grew up in Pakistan, currently writes a blog supporting secular causes and opposing religious extremism. He had to leave Pakistan after an attempt on his life by Islamist extremists, and he has continued to receive credible death threats while in Ireland. For these reasons he needs to remain anonymous, but he recently received the following email from WordPress, as the service provider for his blog:
“A Pakistan Authority has issued a demand to block your WordPress site. Unfortunately, we must comply to keep WordPress accessible for everyone in the region … For your reference, we have included a copy of the complaint.”
There was absolutely no indication of which specific content on the site that was thought to be blasphemous. Instead, the complaint provided was stated as follows:
“I am writing on behalf of Web Analysis Team of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) which has been designated for taking appropriate measures for regulating Internet Content in line with prevailing laws of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In lieu of above it is highlighted that a few of the webpages hosted on your platform are extremely Blasphemous and are hurting the sentiments of many Muslims around Pakistan.”
Legal prohibitions of blasphemy represent an unacceptable infringement of the human right to the freedom of expression. This kind of censorship is not consistent with an open society, but content has been banned as blasphemous in contemporary Ireland too.
The Irish prohibition on blasphemy should be repealed and the Irish State should use this decision to pressure other countries to remove such laws too. As Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, said with respect to the forthcoming referendum:
“By removing this provision from our Constitution, we can send a strong message to the world that laws against blasphemy do not reflect Irish values and that we do not believe such laws should exist.”
Atheist Ireland will be campaigning in favour of the referendum to repeal the Irish blasphemy prohibition.