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Where is Blasphemy Criminalized Around the World?

We recently published a report that surveys laws criminalizing blasphemy, defaming religion, harming religious feelings and other similar acts in seventy-seven jurisdictions around the world.  The report includes a map showing the different regions of the world covered in the report.

Reports such as this one, which survey a geographically, economically, and politically diverse group of countries, are particularly interesting as different patterns can emerge.  For example, this report shows that while blasphemy and related laws are more likely to be in force (and enforced) in countries where the majority of the population is Muslim, many other countries, including Western jurisdictions, retain such laws on their books and some have even enforced them in recent years.  The introductory part of the report summarizes the regional patterns it identified as follows:

  • In Western Europe, many countries retain blasphemy and related laws. While in some countries they are never enforced, there have been prosecutions in recent years in Austria, Finland, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, and Turkey.
  • In much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, laws prohibiting proselytization or insulting religion are prevalent. Recent prosecutions are noted in the entries for Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
  • Most jurisdictions in the Middle East and North Africa have laws prohibiting insulting Islam or religion generally. Many of them have recently applied such laws, including in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and the West Bank.
  • Sub-Saharan African countries covered in this report include Comoros, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. These countries have laws prohibiting blasphemy, proselytization, or similar conduct, although only a handful of reports of enforcement were found.
  • In South Asia, the Islamic states of Afghanistan and Pakistan have blasphemy laws that are actively enforced, and India has a blasphemy law that reportedly is used by all of India’s faith groups when their religious sensibilities are hurt.
  • Islamic countries in East Asia and the Pacific, including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar, have blasphemy-related laws that are actively enforced. Other East Asian and Pacific countries with such laws include Japan, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and New Zealand; the latter has a blasphemy law that has been used only once since its 1893 enactment, in a 1922 case where the defendant was found not guilty.
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are only a few countries with blasphemy or religious insult laws on the books, and the laws are not enforced.
  • In North America, Canada has a blasphemy law that is not enforced.

We often introduce our new multinational reports, which cover a wide range of foreign, international, and comparative law issues, through this blog.  Our more recent reports include Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and War Crimes JurisdictionGovernment Access to Encrypted Communications, Laws on Leg-Hold Traps Around the World, and campaign finance laws.  More of our reports are available on the Law Library’s website.

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