Aust cases 1
Aust cases 2
This page considers blasphemy regimes outside Australia and
It covers -
Pakistan and Afghanistan
Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 prohibits intentional
wounding of religious feelings by word or gesture, supplementing
Section 295A regarding "intentional and malicious"
outraging of religious feelings of any class of citizens by
the spoken or written word. Those offences are wider than
the common law in that they protect the religious feelings
of any person or class of citizens in India.
Pakistan has attracted international attention for prosecutions
and the strengthening of blasphemy law during the past decade,
with indications that there have been over 2,000 arrests and
that trials (sometimes resulting in the death sentence) have
taken place in secret.
1982 legislation made desecrating the Qur'an or derogatory
remarks about it punishable by life imprisonment. In 1984
that was amended, with
remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet ... either
spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any
imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly
... shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life,
and shall also be liable to fine.
The Federal Sharia Court ruled in 1990 that the "penalty
for contempt of the Holy Prophet ... is death and nothing
else", a ruling apparently respected by military and
non-sharia courts. The blasphemy legislation is complemented
by provisions in the Anti-Terrorist Act against inciting religious
A view of the regime is provided in the US State Department's
2003 International Religious Freedom report
and Osama Siddique & Zahra Hayat's 2007 paper
'Unholy Speech And Holy Laws: Blasphemy Laws In Pakistan –
Controversial Origins, Design Defects And Free Speech Implications'.
Afghanistan attracted attention in 2006 over trial
of citizen Abdul Rahman for converting from Islam to Christianity.
Under post-Taliban law he faces the death sentence for apostasy.
In 2007 journalism student Sayed Pervez Kambaksh was sentenced
to death for downloading a report from a Farsi website that
stated Muslim fundamentalists who claim the Koran justify
oppression of women misrepresent the views of the prophet
Mohamed. He distributed the tract to fellow students and academics
at Balkh University with the aim, he said, of provoking a
Section 156(a) of the Indonesian Criminal Code prohibits conduct
that affronts a "recognised religion" (identified
as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Roman Catholicism or Protestantism).
Section 19 of the Main Press Ordinance 1982 prohibits
publication of blasphemous material, permitting prosecution
of authors and publishers and withdrawal of the publishing
Recent cases have been restricted to Islam. They include prosecution
of Monitor editor Arswendo Atmowiloto (fined $5,000
and sentenced to five years imprisonment) for a 1990 opinion
poll perceived as derogatory of the Prophet Mohammed and the
trial in 1995 of dissident intellectual Permadi Satrio Wiwoho.
Lia Aminuddin was imprisoned for two years in 2005-6 for claiming
that she was the Arcangel Gabriel, supposedly proven by possession
of Gabriel's white robe. Critics of the regime noted that
Abu Bakir Bashir received a 25 month sentence for the 2002
Bali Bombing conspiracy that resulted in the death of over
Sections 295-298A of the Malaysian federal Penal Code punish
offences against all religions with up to three years in prison
or a fine of around US$1,000. In practice, Islam enjoys a
special status. Blasphemy prosecutions have been restricted
to denigration of Muhammad or the Qur'an and, more broadly,
Article 3(1) of the Constitution identifies Islam as the religion
of the federation. Although Islamic law is not the general
law of the nation (and under the Constitution syariah courts
have jurisdiction only over adherents to Islam), the states
are empowered to codify law regarding Islamic practice and
belief. That is significant because Malaysia's Syariah courts
have articulated "criminal offense statutes" prohibiting
apostasy, blasphemy and heresy and have sentenced offenders
under those statutes.
Most litigation is tied to the vexed question of ethnicity.
The High Court noted in 2001 that an ethnic Malay is defined
by the Constitution as "a person who professes the religion
of Islam", endorsing rulings in a succession of cases
that demonstrate the difficulties of changing religious affiliation
and associated exposure to punishment as a blasphemer.
The Federal Court for notably ruled that Malays who had tried
to renounce their affiliation in 1998 could be brought before
the Kelantan Syariah High Court in 2000. The Kelantan court
imposed a three year prison sentence for disregarding an order
to publicly recant alleged heretical beliefs, attend religious
classes and "return to the true teachings of Islam".
The Federal Court and Syariah court rejected arguments that
there was no jurisdiction because the defendants had ceased
to be Muslims. That rejection was confirmed in 2002 when the
Court of Appeals ruled - in Kamariah bte Ali lwn Kerajaan
Kelantan - that only the religious court is qualified
to determine whether a Muslim has become an apostate.
major study is Perry Smith's 2004 paper 'Speak No Evil: Apostasy,
Blasphemy and Heresy in Malaysian Syariah Law' in the University
of California Davis Journal of International Law &
Policy. It can be supplemented by the discussion in Andrew
Harding's Law, Government and the Constitution in Malaysia
(Kuala Lumpur: MLJ 1996) and Davidson, Friesen & Jackson's
2001 'Lawyers and the Rule of Law on Trial: Sedition
Prosecutions in Malaysia' in Criminal Law Forum 2001.
In 2006 the Malaysian government issued a blanket ban on the
Jyllands-Posten cartoons, prohibiting anyone in the
country to publish, import, produce, manufacture, circulate,
distribute or possess the caricatures which might "jeopardise
public harmony and safety, which may cause chaos, or endanger
public peace or national interest".
The South African Constitution establishes freedom of speech
but blasphemy remains a common law crime in South Africa.
That reflects the republic's UK heritage, with restrictions
in the Publications Act 1974 (prohibiting publication
and distribution of "blasphemous material") and
other information law.
The last reported prosecution for blasphemy as such was in
1934. However impiety appears to have featured in assessments
of "moral harm" in the censorship of local and imported
print publications, film and other works and in restriction
of theatrical performances.
Issues with international publishing and cultural differences
were highlighted by furore in 2006 after publication in Danish
daily Jyllands-Posten of 12 satirical depictions
of the Prophet Muhammad, including one in which he wears a
bomb-shaped turban about to explode. There is no explicit
ban in the Qur'an against depiction but representing him is
characterised as an attempt to annexe God's creative power
and to depict the sublime.
The Jyllands-Posten initially defended the publication
as free speech and a manifestation of Article 19
of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights but apologised
after boycotts in Denmark's middle eastern markets, death
threats and the withdrawal of the Libyan embassy. Such responses
might have been expected, given attacks on Salman Rushdie
and his associates (including assassination of a Rushdie translator).
Some publishers and web site operators reacted by propagating
the cartoons. Germany's Die Welt for example reproduced
one cartoon on its front page, commenting
is the institutionalised form of freedom of expression.
There is no right to protection from satire in the west;
there is a right to blasphemy.
Paris daily France-Soir pictured Buddha, Yahweh,
the Christian God and Muhammad sitting on a cloud, with God
saying to Muhammad: "Don't be angry, we're have all been
caricatured". The newspaper's owner Raymond Lakah
then fired the editor "as a powerful sign of respect
for the intimate beliefs and convictions of every individual".
In Jordan Jihad Momani published three of the cartoons in
the Shihan weekly, along with an editorial calling
on Muslims to be reasonable.
brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or
pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim
in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself
up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?
Momani was fired and a week later was arrested under Jordan's
press & publications law.
Yaqoob Qureshi, minister of minority welfare in Uttar Pradesh,
offered £6m in gold to anyone who beheaded one of the
cartoonists. Pakistani cleric Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi reportedly
offered a mere US$1m, plus a car, as the "prize"
for assassination of a cartoonist.