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Islamic countries lobbying for treaty against religious defamation: report

[JURIST] The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) [official website] has begun lobbying for the UN General Assembly [official website] to pass an international treaty protecting religious beliefs and symbols from defamation, according to an AP report [text] Friday. The efforts of the OIC are being led by Pakistan and Algeria with full support of the organization's 54 remaining members. The proposal is strongly opposed by western countries due to the effects the ban could have on freedom of speech and expression. The US government has openly condemned [AP report] the idea of a bar on defamation of religion, which could have the adverse affect of suppressing dissidents and reformists in Muslim countries. Pakistani diplomat, Marghoob Saleem Butt, defended the OIC's proposal telling the AP that, "[t]here has to be a balance between freedom of expression and respect for others. ... Taking the symbol of a whole religion and portraying him as a terrorist, that is where we draw the line." Butt was referring to a string of satirical Muslim comics published in Denmark four years ago, one of which depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist. The proposed ban does not state who would determine which actions would incite criminal liability, but these decision would likely be initially decided by each country's criminal court.

Last month, the US State Department [official website] released [JURIST report] its annual Report on International Religious Freedom [materials], criticizing Islamic countries for limiting religious expression. The report found that countries such as North Korea and Iran have attempted to prevent religious defamation as a way to limit religious expression. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] said [transcript] that freedom of religion is essential not only in the US but in every society, and limiting an individual's right of expression reduces that freedom. In addition to North Korea and Iran, the report criticized Myanmar, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan.

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