The U.S. Congress in early March passed a large appropriations bill that includes a provision calling on the U.S. Department of State to prioritize the abolition of blasphemy laws around the world.
According to the American Humanist Association (AHA), blasphemy remains a crime in more than 80 countries, some of them nations that operate under fundamentalist interpretations of Islamic law. Men and women have been imprisoned and even executed for the offense.
The bill, based on language drafted by the staff of the AHA, “includes funds to support in-country training programs for countries that repeal or begin a formal process to remove blasphemy-related offenses from their criminal codes, and to train relevant civil society leaders, religious leaders, the media, the judiciary, and law enforcement on conflict de-escalation tools, community engagement, peacebuilding, and international human rights standards.”
This is the second year in a row that Congress has included such language in legislation.
“We were delighted to see Congress include our language in the bill for the second year,” remarked Rachel Deitch, the AHA’s director of policy and social justice. “Repealing blasphemy laws and moving toward a society that allows and encourages freedom of thought requires significant investment in reframing not only the law, but public perception and beliefs. That’s exactly what this language aims to provide.”
In related news, a Saudi Arabian blogger was released from prison last month after serving 10 years for criticizing religious leaders and promoting progressive interpretations of Islam.
Raif Badawi was arrested in 2012 and charged with “insulting Islam” and other offenses. He was convicted and originally sentenced to seven years in prison, but the penalty was later increased to 10. Badawi was also given a large fine and sentenced to a public flogging of 1,000 lashes. He was whipped 50 times, but the rest of the lashing was suspended after an international outcry.
Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their children fled Saudi Arabia after her life was threatened and eventually won asylum in Canada. She now lives in Quebec and has spent the past decade advocating for her husband’s release. She told Canadian media that she was overjoyed to receive the news that he was free. Badawi’s case was followed closely in Canada, where several rallies were held on his behalf, and political leaders advocated for his release.
CBC News reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that he was “relieved that Raif Badawi has finally been released,” adding, “My thoughts are with his family and friends who have been tirelessly advocating for him for nearly a decade.”