Activists Call on 11 Muslim Member States to Revoke Death Penalty for Blasphemy – Global Issues

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
  • Opinion by Soraya M. Deen, Christine M. Sequenzia (Los Angeles / Washington DC)
  • Inter Press Service

For the past 70 years, Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has condemned the death penalty for religious crimes, a global norm shared during our recent visit to UN Headquarters in New York.

As a prelude to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) high-level meetings in mid-September, we spearheaded the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable Campaign to Eliminate Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws, UN members urged strong support during two major resolutions calling for an end to the death penalty and extrajudicial killings.

We urge the insertion of language that states that the death penalty is never imposed as a sanction for non-violent behavior such as blasphemy and apostasy. The effort garnered an encouraging response from officials of the Nigerian Third Commission, who renewed their commitment to freedom of religion or belief by supporting language in both the moratorium on the death penalty and a resolution on the abolition of the death penalty for extrajudicial killings .

In the days following our visit, the world witnessed the outrage from human rights activists and concerned citizens of the world over the death of Masha Amini, an Iranian Muslim woman who was arrested and subsequently died in the custody of the Iranian vice squad for violating the mandatory hijab mandate of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Brutal cases like this will only stop if government officials in Iran and other gross human rights abusers listen to the cries of their people and uphold globally recognized human rights declarations. These include statutes supporting international religious freedom or belief, and the repeal of apostasy and blasphemy laws.

While most countries around the world and the majority of Muslim countries are taking concrete steps to abolish the death penalty for alleged religious crimes such as blasphemy and apostasy, some are refusing to modernize their laws, labeling themselves as the worst offenders of internationally recognized crimes. basic human rights.

This persistent obsession with enforcing prosecution laws and carrying out the harshest sentences violates religious freedoms – the right to life and the right to freedom of religion or belief. This misinterpretation of Scripture is an abuse of Islam, a tarnishing of the image of Muslims around the world, and a disregard for God’s grace, a belief that transcends faith orientation.

The multidisciplinary and multi-faith delegation of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Campaign urged UN members, including: Luxembourg, Canada and Sri Lanka, to raise their voices loudly in favor of embedded international religious freedom language in two resolutions that will be submitted for a vote at the UNGA in November.

Penholders Australia and Costa Rica are calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, only supported by the IRF campaign, adding specific language to ensure that the death penalty is never imposed for non-violent behavior such as apostasy or blasphemy.

Similarly, as the penholder for the UNGA resolution on extrajudicial killings, Finland is being asked by global advocates to add language about freedom of religion or belief, emphasizing the need for states to take effective measures to enact laws. that currently allow the death penalty for religious crimes, such as criminalizing conversion and the expression of religion or belief as a preventive measure.

Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is clear: everyone has the right to freedom of religion or belief. Yet 11 states today maintain the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy. We raise the voices of the voiceless, such as Pakistani woman Aneeqa Ateeq who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in January 2022 after being manipulated into a religious online debate by a man she romantically refused.

Also an 83-year-old Somali man, Hassan Tohow Fidow, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy by an al-Shabaab militant court and then brutally executed by firing squad; and a 22-year-old Nigerian Muslim gospel singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu who was sentenced to death for blasphemy because one of his songs allegedly praised an imam higher than the prophet.

As a result of our UN advocacy, we pray that the 11 Muslim member states — Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen — join common sense in abolishing the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy as a great step towards becoming civilized nations.

The majority of OIC member states that do not ratify the death penalty for religious crimes should be seen as examples of modernity and humanity and their path to restoring and upholding basic human rights should be reiterated.

The Quran says: “There will be no compulsion in religion; the right way is distinguished from the wrong.” (Qur’an 2:256). Similarly, we read passages such as 18:26: “And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord. Who will, let him believe. And whosoever will – let him disbelieve,” and “Whoever of you renounces his own faith and dies in disbeliever, his deeds will become invalid in this life and in the Hereafter (Qur’an 2:217).”

Serving as a moral compass for the laws in the OIC member states, the holy book affirms the right to freedom of religion or belief recognized by the OIC majority.

As recently seen in Iran, the world is taking notice when civil society becomes active around globally recognized human rights. The OIC affirms its aim “to preserve and promote the fundamental Islamic values ​​of peace, compassion, tolerance, equality, justice and human dignity” and “to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, the rule of law, democracy and accountability” .

To that end, with the adoption of both critical UN resolutions, OIC members will face the controversial and politically sensitive task of calling on other OIC colleagues who continue to violate human rights by imposing the death penalty on individuals for exercising their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

We argue that it is as much a social problem as it is a reflection of the lack of democratic values ​​and principles.

The inclusion of the language of international religious freedom in both resolutions calling for the repeal of the death penalty will be strengthened in the coming days with the strong support of the 46 OIC and other human rights defenders.

We are encouraged by the Saudi Arabian scholar Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa of the Muslim World Alliance, who travels the world to share the unanimously approved Charter of Mecca – a document affirming the differences between people and beliefs as part of God’s will and wisdom.

Our collective voice must be unwavering in its call and commitment to repeal the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy as a first step toward upholding theologies of love and compassion, building on human prosperity.

dr. Christine M. SequenziaMDiv co-chairs the IRF campaign to eliminate blasphemy and apostasy laws; Soraya M. Deen, Esq. is a lawyer, community organizer, founder, Muslim women speakers and co-chair of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Women’s Working Group

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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