Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is alarmed by the continued enforcement of blasphemy provisions around the world and condemns efforts to enact stricter blasphemy legislation. The existence and enforcement of such laws—which punish individuals for allegedly offending, insulting, or denigrating religious doctrines, deities, symbols, and religious feelings—undermines freedom of religion or belief and related human rights, including freedom of expression.
“Blasphemy prosecutions demonstrate a blatant disregard for human rights, and are often used to target members of religious communities and others who hold different or dissenting views,” said Chair Nury Turkel. “It is outrageous that the Iranian government executed Yusef Mehrdad and Seyyed Sadrullah Fazeli Zare on charges of insulting the Prophet despite an international outcry and telling Mr. Mehrdad’s family the execution had been stayed.”
Countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe maintain and regularly enforce criminal blasphemy laws. In January 2023, Pakistan passed amendments that strengthened its blasphemy legislation, undermining the country’s reported efforts to end violent extrajudicial enforcement of that law and paving the way for increased violence. Within weeks of passing the amendments, a mob beat to death a man accused of blasphemy. In March, a Russian court sentenced a 19-year-old to compulsory labor for burning a religious icon, and in April, a Polish court found two women guilty of “offending religious feelings” after they demonstrated for LGBTQ+ rights with an image of religious figures wearing rainbow haloes. Similarly, as of May, a Spanish court is investigating a group of artists for “derision of the Christian faith” related to an exhibition.
“It is disturbing to see the prevalence of such laws globally and the shocking degree to which they are enforced in countries like Iran, Pakistan, and Russia,” said Vice Chair Abraham Cooper. “The use of any law criminalizing blasphemy represents an egregious violation of religious freedom. USCIRF will continue to denounce prosecutions and punishments carried out on the basis of so-called blasphemy.”
In its 2023 Annual Report, USCIRF highlighted blasphemy prosecutions in multiple countries. In 2020, USCIRF released a groundbreaking report that documented the global enforcement of blasphemy laws, and in 2022, released a series of reports on blasphemy laws in Nigeria, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries, and Turkey.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at firstname.lastname@example.org.