>> MODERATOR: We will be starting in two minutes.
I'm not going to be doing real introductions, okay? Just say one sentence. Committee for the protection of journalists. That is fine.
Should I start now?
Thank you all for being here. Hope more people will join in. We know it's tough, there are lots of things happening at the same time, and we are getting quite tired by at this point.
So, just before we start, welcome to the panel on blasphemy and its impact in the digital world, digital rights, and how blasphemy regulations are being used in one way or another, and with an impact that is curtailing freedom of expression and freedom of association.
First of all, I want to ask you a couple thing to the panelists. What are our rules in terms of can we quote you on Twitter, can we photograph you? Are you speaking from your own personal behalf? Is it okay if we mention you? Yeah? Does anyone have a problem or should we do like ‑‑ okay, that is fine. We can quote, that is true. Good. If it's okay with everyone, we will use the IGF 2015 hashtag and for semantic purposes, I'll be using blasphemy, IGF 2015 blasphemy, so that we can track the conversation and we will be taking input and questions remotely also.
When we talk about blasphemy, what do we mean? Well, it's easy to find a definition; basic definition would be great disrespect shown to God or to something sacred, something holy.
We want to make sure we insist that we are not talking about hate speech, which is it's a different category. Hate speech has a specific definition, international law, hateful speech. We are talking about blasphemy and blasphemy regulations and blasphemy laws.
This will be the framework.
So, to put you all in context, correct me, you are the experts, if I'm wrong, but the analysis that I've been reading and from the different research centers, shows that around half of the countries and territories in the world have laws or policies that penalize criminalize blasphemy, when you abandon your faith or defamation, which is criticism of particular religions or religion in general; so half of the countries in the world, or territories, would have this sort of regulations along this line.
We see that there is a trend that extremism or people who use extremist, who use, people with extremist views, or ideologies, they target journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders.
But this human rights defenders of bloggers and journalists are paying the price for all the laws and regulations that criminalize blasphemy. They are trapped in between.
There are many different countries, many different contexts, not only in developing countries, all throughout the world. I wanted you to engage with some of these examples. We are going to first do a quick analysis with each of our speakers which I will introduce quickly. From the background and experience, what is the situation and trends, should we be concerned, and what are the highlights in the different regions and fields. Then that is when we are going to be three minutes each.
Then we are going to see some not recipes, because I don't think anyone has recipes, but things that are working, advocacy efforts that are moving forward, policy changes, things like that, so that we know where to look and where to stay tuned.
So to my ‑‑ let me see one second. Here to my left is my colleague, Jac, and I need you to help me pronounce your last name. Jac Kee, is that enough? She is our women's rights expert at APC. You can introduce yourself in a second. Carny, who works for the committee for the protection of journalists. One second.
I have all the information here. We have, the committee to protect journalists. And to her right we have Aswany, director of article 19, Tunisia. And we have Gaya, human rights lawyer from India, and she is going to ‑‑ you will give us some more context later.
Can we start, can I start with Gaya, and you have three minutes, just a quick analysis context, where to look for, what are the trends in terms of blasphemy and freedom of expression in your region.
>> I think the starting point is that this whole discussion is being had at a time when freedom of expression and freedom of religion is being increasingly exercised on line. You have people coming out on line exercising the freedom of expression, but also you have people coming online to exercise freedom of religion. It is in their interaction and intersection that this entire discussion lies.
I think the first thing that we have to acknowledge is that blasphemy laws and blasphemy allegations as such have repercussions well beyond freedom of expression. They affect a whole gamut of rights including right to life, right to personal liberty, right to fair trial, right against arbitrary detention, even including the right to freedom of assembly, association and movement. These are just a few rights to name the entire gamut of rights that blasphemy laws as such affect. The concept of blasphemy insist that I as an individual have the right against being offended in relation to my religion. And at the same time, it imposes an obligation on me to refrain from hurting your religious sentiments.
Throughout this entire discussion, we have maintained both at international and national levels that the right against offense is not something that is recognized at the international level. My colleague will be able to go into international standards and perhaps highlight that as she goes.
But I think this led to a consultation we had recently in Jakarta, and one of the most important things, important observations that came from that consultation is that blasphemy provisions have now transcended the traditional penal legislations. What we used to see before is that whether it's the Indian penal code or Pakistan penal code, the provision relating to not hurting religion sentiments used to find its place in the penal provisions, but now you find that kind of provision is there in laws relating to assembly, association, and most importantly laws relating to cyber rights.
We have Cybercrime bills coming up and laws coming up, all of which include a provision that says that you cannot offend religion online. I think that is the area that is something for us to be concerned about.
And especially blasphemy threats online are complicated because blasphemy laws as such are very widely termed. I don't have to be the author of a particular statement on Facebook. I could like a statement on Facebook and that can be considered as blasphemy. I could have said something on Facebook and a colleague of mine or friend of mine can comment on that post, and then my post which might not have been blasphemous but the comment can also implicate me. This is throughout the nine countries that we are looking at. That is another area that makes it difficult.
This is particularly problematic in countries that have official state religions, all countries in which the Government takes it upon itself to patronize or to promote a particular religion over other religions.
This is so in the case of Pakistan and in the case of Bangladesh, in the case of Sri Lanka, Burma and several other countries. But to make things more summarized, blasphemy allegations online can have several repercussions.
One is censorship, hate speech as a result of blasphemy allegations against the individual or the person who's alleged to have committed blasphemy, violence, very real and dangerous violence against persons who are alleged to have committed blasphemy, and finally legal repercussions, where you drag from court to court and you don't have to go through the court procedures, more violence and ex judicial injustice somehow inflicted upon you.
I would like to give two examples of blasphemy allegations and how it works out. One is the case of the YouTube ban in Pakistan. Right after the whole debacle with innocence of Muslims, the entire site was taken down. Until today YouTube is not accessible in Pakistan, for having hosted blasphemous content. That is one example of how an intermediary is affected. Another example of how real individuals are affected is the case of Bangladesh, where bloggers who are perceived as atheist or who are questioning anything about the religion are being attacked, being dragged to street, killed, and the call for violence against these bloggers is really online.
The assembly of persons getting together to plan out the violence against these bloggers is also online. I think to wrap my entire discussion up, I would say that irrespective of whether or how judiciously these blasphemy provisions are used, the existence of blasphemy laws and provisions is enough offend to human rights democracy and such.
>> MODERATOR: I have to moderate, but I want to write everything you say. So I'm following it. So dragged, trapped in the moment.
Saloua, you want to tell us about how this affects the particular context of the Middle East and Africa where we also see an increase in extremist trends, increase in repression and increase in curtailing of freedom of expression.
>> SALOUA GHAZOAUANI: Thank you. Hi, everybody. Sorry in advance for my English levels. Yeah. Many of the countries in the world have of course ‑‑ it works? Yeah.
Many of the countries of the world have anti‑blasphemy laws and policies, punishing acts of blasphemy or opposition against certain religions. An important number of these countries are in the region, while laws seem less common overall, these laws are present in nearly half of the countries in the region. Expression that is interpreted as a insult to religion, in particular Islam, and therefore as blasphemy, is widely criminalized across the region and in some countries is punishable by death, which consists of freedom of expression including online. In the countries where anti‑blasphemy laws don't exist, other legislation such as penal code or telecommunications code, etcetera, can cause harm to the public order or public more or less or having, disrupting their lives through public communication networks; and of course speech that is deemed offensive to traditional religious values, including speech deemed blasphemous is secured under these provisions.
In some countries of the middle region Government control of content in the media and in the Internet, including the religious concept related issues, this is very visible, which affect freedom of expression and increases self‑censorship.
Let me, in the next few minutes, speak about my country, Tunisia, as a case study from the MENA region, if it is not relevant example for all the MENA countries. As I believe that the discussion about freedom of religion, freedom of expression and so on are more advanced right now, thanks to the smallest democratization. The needs of people were in 2012 after protests against blasphemy bill to push the party at the time to withdraw the bill, which would criminalize curses and mockery, desecration of numerous religion concepts. The constitution provides for free practice of religion when it does not disturb public order. Citizens have the right to sue the Government. Freedom of expression is guaranteed as well. For my best practice in the MENA region context, the main challenge comes from the society as well, not just legislation and policies, as a conservative society, serve a lot for the abuse in using this existing anti‑blasphemy legislation, provision and policies. The main challenge and issues are behind this, is among our education.
The question here, how it will be possible for a society dedicated to not be able to distinguish between the right to religion, including his right to not be intimidated for his choice, to a particular religion or not, not having a religion or not having a religion and between the right to criticize, including criticizing religions as the essence of the right to freedom of expression, to accept that anti‑blasphemy laws and practices are counterproductive, since they might result, since they may result in defacto censor of all anti‑religious belief dialogue, debate and criticism, most of which could be constructive, healthy and need. Thank you.
>> MODERATOR: Very good. You are both being succinct and right to the point with the time we have.
Can you tell us more, how is it to work as a journalist and with journalists and bloggers on an issue as difficult to cover as this?
>> Thank you. I'm Carny Rog from the community to protect journalists. Journalists are in a difficult position when it comes to covering blasphemy or even writing and covering issues in countries that have blasphemy laws or have politicized religious situations. And when I talk about journalists, I'm speaking widely about those who are engaging in commentary of issues of public importance and public interests.
What we see, obviously, as everyone knows here, is that journalism is taking place on a variety of platforms, on social media, and in traditional media, and across the board we see that the existence of blasphemy laws as well as the politicization of religion by political leaders has created a perilous situation for journalists.
You can show the first slide.
>> MODERATOR: Please show the first slide that we have.
>> In Bangladesh, as was just briefly mentioned, there have been at least four journalists who have been hacked to death and killed. Many of them were writing about secular topics, or writing about science. Some of them were writing on their blogs or on Facebook about these issues. And of course one of the things we know about the digital world is that these comments, these publications have a much wider reach than they might have off‑line. But also that there is a community around there and can be very easy then to make that content available to extremists, to people who would also then want to use that information to track that person. So one of the bloggers was attacked outside of his home, for example.
So these raise serious concerns. A lot of the journalists who are being attacked or charged with blasphemy are covering secular or progressive issues. They are not actually being blasphemous. And the problem with blasphemy laws are that they are ill‑defined, and that they are vaguely worded, and that they impose criminal penalties for what is legitimate freedom of expression and freedom of belief.
We have seen in repressive governments and extremist groups alike have targeted those who have parodied or portrayed even the prophet Mohammed, which is a criminal offense under many blasphemy laws in several Muslim countries, and rising Internet penetration rates have allowed these enemies of the press everywhere to more easily monitor and respond to journalists and to cartoonists that they view as objectionable. I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone about the horrific incident that started off the year with the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo journalists during the cartoonists, during their editorial meeting that morning in January. And the problem is that both governments and the intolerant are monitoring social networks very closely, and hunting for any sign of adverse commentary, and this is able, they are able to then mobilize and radicalize vast new audiences.
We also see that threats are being made against journalists online who again simply cover issues or cover issues that have to do with religion or who live in religiously conservative societies and are seen as breaking religious cultural taboos. For example, in Malaysia there was a radio journalist who received numerous threats of violence, rape and murder on social media after presenting a satirical video that questioned the opposition state Government's intention to push for Islamic criminal law, or Hudud in Malaysia, and the video was removed and the journalist probed for so‑called blasphemy.
We have also seen in Pakistan, for example, Sherry Rackman, journalist for ten years, and continued to write about blasphemy while she was also in politics trying to get the law changed, was murdered simply for her work on that.
In Algeria we have seen an editor who was sentenced by ‑‑ so this is actually a horrible case, the editor worked for a state‑owned newspaper, published an article about non‑Arabic words in the Koran, which I won't get into the details, but basically his own paper then fired him, and then filed charges of blasphemy against him just for having allowed something to be published in the paper. He was then sentenced on blasphemy and he is, and faced a major fine.
In Saudi Arabia, we know Raif, an important blogger who ran a liberal discussion board online and filled a journalistic void, was sentenced to, on blasphemy charges, and sentenced to jail.
It's also happened in Mauritania, a man who was held for a article he posted which was deemed as blasphemous to Islam. There are blasphemy laws also in other countries in so‑called, I don't know if we call them Christian countries or whatever, but around Buddhist countries.
The fact is, it's about when the religion is politicized, not about the religion itself.
What we saw in Mauritania is because this article was published on a news Web site, again this difference in terms of the reach of these digital news organisations, it then was seen by some extremists, and it led to nationwide protests on January 10, where the protestors called on the President to punish this guy Mohammed for what they said was blasphemous, and then the President said that, yes, the Web sites and TV and journalists should respect our religion and we will do everything to protect it.
Then of course he was sentenced to jail, and he remains in jail. There are so many cases, I don't want to take up the whole time here talking about them. But I want to talk about some of the ramifications.
Of course, at their worst, in countries like Pakistan and Malaysia, such laws lead to overt Government censorship and individuals who are both prosecuted and subject to severe criminal penalties and lengthy jail sentences as well as death sentences which is a violation of their right to life. This is an extremely disproportionate response.
It can lead to riots and nonstate violence which can also result in a loss of life.
Charges that are brought against high profile journalists or cartoonists serve as a warning to the rest of society, this is a red line, these topics are off limits. You can't express any opinion about religion.
It also can lead to a denial of justice, because a lot of time the journalists who are charged with blasphemy can't get access to a lawyer because the lawyers are too scared to represent them. And the judges are too scared to rule on their cases. There is censorship of reporting about blasphemy. News Week was censored because of an article about the prosecution of somebody under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws. And when you remove an article or close a news site or block access to YouTube, that not only impinges on the journalist's right to impart information, it impinges on the right of society, of every other individual to receive information, because let's remember this article 19 guarantees our right to receive and impart information.
The threats against journalists covering this issue also go into the, have economic ramifications, in terms of job loss, inability to get future assignments. An Algerian editor was fired, as I mentioned. These can have broad repercussions. Let me wrap it up there.
>> MODERATOR: Very good, thank you, Carny. Jac is sharing insights on Twitter and she is following it. There are already comments. But what is the effect of these laws on women and women's rights and women human rights defenders?
>> JAC KEE: Thanks. When I was preparing for this, I didn't have a clear distinction in my head between blasphemy and between insightful speech on the basis of religion. They may be two sides of the same coin which maybe needs to be interrogated at the same time.
I'm Jac, from Malaysia. I will share the story. In earlier this year, the opposition Government in the northern state, which is a strong opposition Government which runs under the banner of Islam, so this is the political leverage I guess, they have decided to propose yet again the implementation of the Hudud law, criminal offenses act ‑‑ criminal offenses act in Islam, Islamic criminal, basically crimes against Islam. This received a lot of criticism and a lot of pushback from various different quarters.
Part of a youth‑led initiative is trying to encourage more interreligious dialogue, trying to get more people to talk about religion, because religion is such a difficult topic to talk about anyway.
As part of their effort to do this, they created a popular video. Using popular culture to try to open up the space for discourse, that is quite critical, and using the satire, because that enables an opening of tough topics to talk about.
They ran this through a popular urban base video program, and I caught it. Someone was telling me, this is great, watch it. I watched it. Within 30 minutes I couldn't find the link again. It was completely taken off. In the space of 30 minutes, they received so much comments and backlash and threats, that the radio program had to take precautionary measure to close it.
The video itself was actually really good, because what she was doing was not questioning the implementation of the law. She was questioning the prioritization of the state. Earlier in the year there was a massive flood that resulted in hundreds of people who lost their house, their homes, and even missing people who are not accounted for.
She was asking, why are we prioritizing this ‑‑ why aren't we prioritizing this, instead of doing a job as the state to provide adequate redress to who lost their homes and be accountable as a Government. She is raising questions, questioning why Islamic law is used as a way to bamboozle people to think about other things.
Then once all this was taken down, and threats included she ought to be burnt alive, if I see you, I will kill you, and you deserve to be raped.
She's not really spoken much in the following months since. Her father has come out to make reports. She was questioned by the police. And blasphemy, we don't have blasphemy laws, but under the penal code we have a series of offenses which is deemed insulting to religion, so things which is like with intent to wound the religious feelings of any person.
This is in the criminal code up to one year. After immense pressure, the attackers, then the police reluctantly say, they have to also investigate those who put those attacks against her.
What this reveals is two issues. One, the fact that a woman speaks up about or makes a comment that is related to religion itself is regarded as offensive. Because she is occupying a public domain, this public domain is one that is traditionally the domain of particular kinds of, it's traditionally a masculine domain. You couple that with religion and in the country whereby religion is institutionally masculine, so you are not allowed to be a woman, to be able to speak authoritatively about Islam in Malaysia, so the fact that you are doing this, your very presence itself is challenging different things, breaking barriers and being disruptive at many levels. The backlash is immediate.
We see this, women politicians who speak up, women in technology fields which traditionally are regarded as masculine domains, once you occupy the space and you are loud in the space, the backlash is immediate.
The backlash is to try to push you back to the private domain where you sort of belong and also to silence you. Please, you should not be talking in this space. Yeah?
And also, I guess in short, the fact that she is a woman, that her gender itself subjects her to immediate risk of attacks. We also see this in relation to women and LGBT people being easy targets for religious vigilante groups.
I don't know if, these are quasi‑state sometimes, nonstate actors who go around and be like upholder of religion, right, they go around saying, we will be policing where the morality and religious lines are. And often, the people who occupy this lines or where the lines need to be defined are already marginalized groups on the basis of gender and sexuality.
In other words, your very presence itself is blasphemous, whether it's because of who you are, where you happen to be, whether you are occupying a certain space, what you are saying because of your behavior or even choices you make about clothes, what you wear in spaces itself is considered, like your presence itself in a particular way is considered blasphemous.
The second issue that it raises, the nature of the threat is specifically targeting of gender and sexuality. Of course, we have always been known, definitely, anybody who kind of like speaks, makes public challenging discuss around religion is subject to threats and subjected to risk. But for women, the risk ‑‑ not the risk ‑‑ the attacks themselves is quite specific. It really targets your sexuality. You will always see that there will definitely be some kind of rape threat there. I will come and rape you; if not, I will rape your children. There is something about this very kind of targeted to what is your body.
You have to think about this in an existing context where rape is a material risk for women. There is a certain kind of probability to it and immediacy. When you see it, it does something to you. It has the probability, materiality of the risk that shut you up. You do fear it. It is not just words, is what I'm saying. It is not an empty threat. It is something that is quite real.
Secondly, rape is also something symbolic. We know that rape is used as a weapon in times of conflict, and especially in times of boundary conflicts when it comes to things like nationality. When you want to define the borders of a nation in times of war, often rape is used as a tool. This is why we see this also in a lot of cases in relation to conflict resolution and peace building.
This is not a new analysis, not an accident that we call our nation the motherland. And women are also often embodiments of this boundaries of this, imagined boundary of what the state is. When you rape a woman, you are essentially raping a state. You are sort of like in a way exerting control and domination over somebody else. Religion is a nationality contention. The entire contestation around which religious values should not be disturbed or should be, retain dominance, has to do with this entire discourse. You have to look at these two things merged together.
Arguments around that, insult offenses to religion, often comes alongside arguments around national security and terrorism and so on.
There is a need to read the two of these together. The impact of this is compounded at several levels. Around religion plus culture plus gender stereotypes is used to attack in silence, and the risk and fear is material, palpable and immediate, so the silencing effect is effective. Access to justice is a problem. In the case of Ayasha, the tendency is to prioritize offenses against religion rather than threats on violence against women. If it's about this, generally if you want to get access to justice, you will be deprioritized, and this is seen as important more.
Important questions we come to know about religion and threat, specifically public participation of women and by people of marginalized, sexual and gender identities is threatened as well. It has a compounding effects of citizenship and how the Internet empowered participation, but what does this mean at the same time in relation to all of it. I'll stop here.
>> MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Jac. You guys are a source of headlines and right to the point. I'm writing everything down. We will be publishing a report of this on APC.org later. I already have the very existence of blasphemy laws is an affront to human rights, challenges come from societies, not only from governments themselves. It is about how religion is politicized, it is not about religion itself.
A woman speaking up about religion is in itself seen as an offense because she is occupying a traditionally masculine domain. She is being disruptive at so many levels.
I want to move on to what each of you sees as working effectively or heading in the right direction, or whether it is movements or advocacy efforts, or impact in regulations, and the relationship between regulation and between like I think Saloua was mentioning how they manage to get the law, remove or paralyze before it went from being a bill to being a law.
Let's see efforts, I would like to ask you of initiatives, like this, that you see working. But first I wanted to ask, I don't know which one of you, maybe Carny, but feel free to jump in, but do you see a direct relationship between this passing of blasphemous regulations and a increase in threats and harassment? Because we were saying it's not only governments. It's also society themselves. But do you see that they actually are feeding one another?
>> I would say the issue is not the passage of blasphemy laws, because what we see is that in many case blasphemy laws are a holdover from colonial rule, or that they have been in existence for a while.
But what we see is that the expansion of expression into the online sphere has created new opportunities for repression, new opportunities for attacking and new mechanisms for attacking those who try to express themselves online. And we did see Ireland passed a Blasphemy Law in 2008, which is very odd. But the existence of blasphemy laws provides cover for regressive societal forces, and for politicians.
In some cases it can hold politicians hostage, because there are these laws. It makes it difficult for them to resist pressure by society. Another huge problem is that in many countries, these blasphemy laws as I mentioned have severe penalties. So that certainly is something that governments should do away with. It really is restricting society's ability to talk about these subjects, but in many cases it's in the interest of the state in question because they are trying to maintain a specific version of religion that coincides with political authority, since in most of these countries, there is some level, a lack of political legitimacy.
Again these things are very tied up. But it's more than just the law. Right? It's also the fact that there is nearly 100 percent impunity for killing journalists. When journalists and bloggers are murdered because of so‑called blasphemous content, and then no justice is ever brought in their cases, no one is ever arrested, nothing happens, that sends a very important signal to society.
So there are many levels of responsibility that we have to look at.
>> MODERATOR: To move on with the efforts that are being made and initiatives that are already happening, Deborah Brown works at APC also, Association for Progressive Communications and policy.
She was co‑organizing and helping with several initiatives in Jakarta. One of them resulted into the Jakarta recommendations in the context of freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Do you want to tell us, Deborah, what were the findings and what were the recommendations?
>> DEBORAH BROWN: Thanks very much, Leila. The Jakarta recommendations ‑‑ is this working? The Jakarta recommendations are printed on the two tables here. You are welcome to take a copy, and reflect on them. This is meant to be conversation. The recommendations came out of a three‑day meeting held from the 3rd to 5th of June that was co‑organized by APC, global partners, Forum Asia and a few other, democracy project India, and other organisations that I don't have off the top of my head.
The consultation was with UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye and also Frank Larue. And the point of the exercise was wrapped together around 140 human rights offenders, activists, journalists, lawyers and others, and so society was to really look at what challenges in Asia people are seeing with respect to freedom of expression in the context of religion.
The exercise, the first two sections of the recommendations, you will see, are actually basically what we have been talking about here today, and will talk about in terms of trends and challenges people are facing, as well as the international standards which I think we will talk about later.
The recommendations were, actually I should say that the conversation wasn't necessarily about the online space, but you will see in the trends and challenges that online issues are very much prevalent and at the forefront of this issue in Asia. The recommendations themselves mostly look at official state institutions.
The first set of recommendations go towards governments and state institutions, second, judiciary and legal institutions and third, international human rights institutions and bodies.
The overall, I'm not going to read through all of the recommendations, it's more useful to have a discussion here about them, but the overall request or demand of governments, they ensure the protection of freedom of expression in the context of religion for all individuals, all communities at all times, and Government should do that by recognizing that freedom of expression is essential to a pluralistic society recognizing all beliefs and opinions equally.
There are recommendations that call for an enabling environment for the exercise of freedom of expression, laws and policies to measure, policy measures for freedom of expression and in particular those, they should be applied in a nondiscriminatory manner especially with relation to women and LGBTQ people.
As I said, these don't address specifically the issue of online, but the first legal reform is asking that the core legal documents in the country protect freedom of expression online and off‑line, and that they are in accordance with national human rights, norms and standards. And of course, the UN and other bodies have recognized that the same rights we have off‑line should be applied online.
That is the general framing. A lot of the issues that were discussed in terms of bloggers and impunity for attacks on them, addressed in the justice section, there are calls for laws that have blasphemy and other issues we have been talking about, and then there is also recommendations to the judiciary and legal community to initiate reforms and to ensure that limitations are again leading to international standards of legitimacy, necessity and proportionality.
With respect to the international and regional mechanisms, I'm getting ahead because we haven't discussed the Rabat Plan of Action and initiatives at the Human Rights Council. But we can follow up on this to develop indicators to measure what states are doing in relation to protecting freedom of expression in the context of religion, and for special rapporteurs to pay more attention to the issue and highlight it when they communicate to governments and make country visits.
We are asking the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief and also Special Rapporteur on human rights offenders, and the fourth one is on freedom of association.
Since this report came out or our recommendations came out, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion did actually visit Bangladesh where this is of course a very important issue, and we understand his next report will be on freedom of religious expression. There might be immediate steps we can take in order to publish that document or in order to take the document forward to push for more reform in different countries.
I think I'll end by saying we actually don't address what intermediaries can be doing, what other stakeholders that might be at the IGF. This was focused on traditional state obligations and human rights norms. But part of the reason we want to have this workshop is to open the discussion more. We are waiting for a colleague from Facebook in India to join us. She is on another panel now. But hopefully, we can have the conversation in terms of what can the broader Internet Governance community do, and there is also open conversation beyond those that were in Jakarta with us.
>> MODERATOR: Thank you, Deborah. I wanted to ask you more in the specific case of Pakistan, how is it working in terms of responses and advocacy and ways to effect change? What can we join, how can we get involved also?
>> The starting point is that, like I said, existence of these legislations itself is the primary problem, because in all interactions with the governments, we in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, when a particular person is being targeted for alleged blasphemous content, the Government and authorities repeatedly maintain that, but he said something offensive. That attitude is stemming from the fact that there are legislations that tell us that we have the right against being offended. Governments are taking it upon themselves to push on.
I think the first step that needs to be taken seriously is that the entire attention needs to shift to the individual whose right really just to have, exercise his right to religion, whereas right now the entire focus is on the religion as such, to have the right against being defamed.
That is primarily the focus that should be there.
The second biggest challenge that we are facing is traditionally or even recently, one of the solutions that is being offered against hate speech is to have speech ‑‑ but it's difficult when it comes to blasphemy, because if you are alleged to have said something blasphemous and you are getting targeted, and if I'm coming out in your support, then in a sense I'm committing blasphemy as well.
This is what we saw in the case of Pakistan, where someone was arrested and the Government came out in support of proper fair trial for him, and as a result of which he got murdered. The person who murdered him was celebrated as a hero. You see the space for counter speech is shrinking. I'm sorry I'm only giving you negative examples so far.
But on the positive side, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has said that discussing blasphemy laws, even having difference of opinion with blasphemy laws is not blasphemous. That is a big relief right now.
But it is not only a question of Pakistan. You have these laws throughout south Asia. It is the same challenge everywhere. The first place to start it is to find a way to impress upon judiciaries that when interpreting these laws, when implementing these laws, the real question they need to ask is whether the speech that I engaged in has effectively prevented you from exercising your right to religion, because I might ridicule your religion, but has that prevented you from being able to exercise your right to religion? That is really the key question.
Perhaps a way of impressing upon judiciary is to work on expression of religion and drive home this point.
>> MODERATOR: Good, Gaya, because often blasphemous regulations include specificities, the need to protect people who practice the religion, and people's rights to practice religion, so that is not what is at stake. Saloua, can you tell us more in the case of the region and especially how international standards are working there?
>> SALOUA GHAZOAUANI: Let me first go through some international standards relating to blasphemy.
The first instrument is the article 19 of the international governance on civil and political rights. So the restrictions to freedom of expression according to the article 19 of the ICC CPR are four, and among them we cannot find of course blasphemy as a criticism of the religion as a restriction to freedom of expression.
In addition, the restriction should be applied respecting three conditions, legality, legitimacy and necessity, in a Democratic society.
The second instrument that I would like to mention is the general comment number 34, and in particular the point 48 of this 200 comment, which says the prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for religion or other beliefs system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Government, except as specifics in article 20 of the ICCPR paragraph 2 of the covenant, such prohibitions must also comply with the strict requirements of the article 19, paragraph 3 of course, as well as such article as 2, 5, 17, 18 and 26.
Thus, for instance, it would be possible for any such laws to discriminate in favor or against one or certain religion, religions or beliefs systems, or their audience over another religious believer's, over nonbelievers, nor would it be permissible for such prohibitions to be used to prevent or furnish criticism of religions, so religious leaders' commentary or religious doctrine in terms of faith.
The third instrument I would like to mention is the Rabat Plan of Action, in particular, two recommendations of this plan, which says that states that have blasphemy laws should repeal these as such laws have specific impact on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief and healthy dialogue and debate about religion.
The second recommendation is state to adopt anti‑discrimination as legislation that includes preventative, and punitive action to effectively combat inside ‑‑ these international standards are challenging to be applied in the MENA context, for several reasons.
The first reason is that national laws are in contradiction with the international standards. The second reason is that the societies in the MENA region, and after the Arab spring, I don't know if we can still use this expression, and even after the wide revolutions in the MENA region, which lead to a wide externism and using of ‑‑ when extremists can as well benefit from freedom of expression to manipulate people using the religion.
So now in Tunisia and in other, many countries of the region, extremists benefit from freedom of expression to manipulate a large part of the young people who are less educated or who are marginalized. This is the challenge and the context.
In our countries, we are accepting in Tunisia where the progressive constitution was adopted and hope that the legal framework that will follow will be in line with this constitution. But still again, the gap between the laws in the Tunisia case, and the practice, so the laws is, are very good, but the practice is still the same, as in the previous regime.
So many difficulties still exist in relation to when we can educate, we can advocate and full application of international standards regarding freedom of expression, in particular one national identity, national security, hate speech are very instrumentalized. Thank you.
>> MODERATOR: Thank you. Before we move to questions and comments, I want to ask any insights in terms of advocacy efforts that are working or cases that you are following that we can actually learn from.
>> Sure. There are several different advocacy efforts. One of them is called Press Uncuffed, and that is a partnership that CPJ has been doing for the past several months, along with some students at the University of Maryland, who are studying investigative journalism and using the cases of imprisoned journalists to do so. I'm wearing a bracelet that they made, which is on behalf of an imprisoned Egyptian journalist, but not on blasphemy charges, but one of the journalists that we are highlighting there is the Mauritanian case. If you go to CPJ.org and go under advocacy action, press uncuffed, you will see the options there and Sheikh Mohammed is the Mauritanian journalist who has been in jail for over 600 days.
We are advocating with the Government to let him go. I think that a lot of these cases, obviously imprisonment is fully within the scope of the Government to change. So there is an actual target that you can work with. That is a key focus for journalists who are imprisoned on blasphemy charges, is to focus on getting them out of jail, and then on changing those laws.
I think it's more difficult when you look at social pressure in terms of what is happening on the ground in Bangladesh, for example, how to actually respond to that.
There is really no good answer. But again, I think going back to what I was saying earlier, is that ensuring that politicians and high level popular well‑known people don't fan the flames of fire, and to actively come out in support of people to set an example. But in some of these countries, it's just ridiculous to expect that. Certainly we are not going to see the authorities in Saudi Arabia leading by example, right?
So, we have to do as much as we can to, yes, recognize that there is international law, and so that the power of norms, that these countries are breaking international norms, we need to fight back against any attempt to revive the defamation of religions resolution at the UN. And western countries that have been affected by Charlie Hebdo need to be careful that their responses to Charlie Hebdo don't end up providing cover from repressive governments to use similar excuses to clamp down on legitimate speech.
>> MODERATOR: Yes, please, Jac can go.
>> JAC KEE: I think this is difficult. We have to respond to this really in a sort of context of all kinds of crisis, right? We have an economic crisis, migration crisis, crisis of democracy, and all forms of crisis which is really affecting people's sense of anxiety around, which is really causing a sense of anxiety around your sense of who you are, your belonging, nation, citizenship power, location within your state and globally.
Religion then becomes a very useful way to try and temper some of these anxieties, and becomes a useful way by state and other actors who are anxious, whether it's within the family and you are anxious about the state of changing globalization, and you use this in a way to temper this, and the state uses this as a way to temper anxieties by its people.
In some ways you can't really deal with this true, saying that we need to repeal the laws and need to change the laws, because that won't happen. All of these things is happening, is being used now in order to preserve a sense of, okay, everything is okay, don't panic. Yeah? We have this.
If you want to change the law, you won't even get rid of this basic level thing. So there really isn't a simple solution in that sense. But I do think that something that access to the Internet has provided is this little fissure of a space where you can somehow get together in somewhat of a relative safe situation to produce content areas, and at the height of it that is what will help to change things, because when you have a lot of people is afraid to say stuff that counters a particular norm, and especially something as contentious and sensitive as religion, then you will end up in a space where you become smaller and smaller.
In some ways maybe the effort to address this should prioritize how can we enable content areas to happen in a way that make ...
(Portion of audio lost due to Internet disruption.)
It's going to be contrary to freedom of expression, almost as if we don't know how to do with freedom of expression conversations and in a way that is able to contain diversity and contain inclusion. That is critical. If we don't do that, we are going to end up in a bind. That I think is ‑‑
>> MODERATOR: Thank you, Jac. You mentioned several different angles, from creating our own narrative to specific ways to address these alleged tension between people being offended and the right of freedom of expression. And I really, if I had to choose a headline right now, I would go with, I may ridicule your religion, but did I prevent you from exercising your religion? That is something I'm going to keep in my pocket to respond when having these debates where this is raised.
I know there is a question already here in the room. We will start with that. I wanted to ask also if there are questions from remote participation or from social media or anywhere else. How should we do this? Should we start? Let's start with you. We can take one or two questions and combine them with remote. Is there any remote participation, by the way? Not so far.
>> First of all, thanks, a great panel.
(audio breaking up).
I work with the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental ‑‑ closer? I'll try.
I work with the Council of Europe, a intergovernmental organization of 47 European states, and I'd like to share with you some information about initiatives. We have taken on safety of journalists and freedom of expression recently in the Council of Europe. First it's the platform, the Internet‑based platform on safety of journalists and article 19, to protect journalists and censorship. European Federation of Journalists are partners of the platform.
The way it functions, these partners submit alerts to this platform on situations threatening journalists, and media freedom in Council of Europe member states. This triggers a response procedure by the member states of the Council of Europe, and in that way we have a dialogue going on, on very specific cases of threats against journalists.
You might not think this a hundred percent effective or that this will eradicate the issues around the topic of safety of journalists, but still it creates pressure on the governments to respond to the allegations that have been raised by our partners. That is one initiative.
The second initiative is a report which the Secretary‑General of the Council of Europe produced this year on the state of democracy, human rights and law of Europe. Part of the report was dedicated to freedom of expression.
There was an evaluation of the application of defamation, hate speech laws and blasphemy laws in the 47 member states. The findings of that evaluation actually were that only 38 percent of the membership, Council of Europe membership states secure freedom of expression with regard to these laws in a satisfactory way.
The remaining is unsatisfactory.
Consequently, we are going to establish a two years program with all the Council of Europe member states to promote freedom of expression standards. That will include of course defamation and blasphemy laws, situations that we have both a eastern and western member states of the Council of Europe.
That is my contribution. I wanted to share it with you.
>> I'd like to respond to that. Thank you. It is nice to have a platform like that to get responses from states. However, I think it would be critical for the Council of Europe to hold its member states responsible for addressing the murder of journalists. For example, Bosnia has outstanding cases of journalists murders. There are cases, there are still countries like Greece and Ireland that have blasphemy laws. In addition to providing a mechanism for communication from Civil Society, I think that the Council of Europe needs to hold its member states accountable for meeting international standards for investigating the murders of journalists, and for taking concrete action beyond simply acknowledging receipt. We look forward to making that a dynamic platform.
>> This topic is something that really is very important to me, and the countries that are becoming victim of laws that are against people who want to be open and sharing in the sharing spaces for example, social media in particular.
I also want to say as my colleague mentioned, that it's not very much negative all the time and there has been good improvement, and Government, one of the judges on the Supreme Court of Pakistan has issued a ruling that there is likely a chance that we need to look into the blasphemy laws that are existing into the country. We hope some things are, something that are coming up.
Also I wanted to point out that we have been doing research around this issue, and also we have looked into how debating faith in cyberspace can have an off‑line effect. So we have produced research. We have a few copies. You can also access it on line. If you are interested, you can take a copy, and if you get, want to get to know more about it, I'm able to talk more about it. Thank you.
>> MODERATOR: Thank you very much. There is anything you want to add on that or ask anything in particular or respond or comments? Are there any comments that we should be paying attention to on social media? Does any of you want to add anything else?
No? We are okay. Shall we leave it at this? Did you guys notice you are in a panel where six women are countering blasphemy laws? That is in itself I think a good reaction to this scenario we are living in. Thank you so so much for coming.
There is a what? Was there a comment there still? Is there a comment there? He is giving us a heads up. Thank you so much.
(session ends at 5:22 p.m.)