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More than 180 rights organisations worldwide, including 27 IFEX members, have banded together to oppose a "defamation of religions" campaign at the UN mounted by Islamic states that would make criticising religion a crime in UN resolutions, declarations and world conferences.

Most recently, Pakistan, on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), tabled a resolution on "combating defamation of religions" at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council. Although the text refers frequently to protecting all religions, the only religion specified as being attacked is Islam. The resolution is to be put to a vote on the last day of the session, 27 March.

OIC, an intergovernmental organisation comprising 57 states with majority or significant Muslim populations, has stepped up its fight for the concept of religious defamation to be added to UN resolutions since the 11 September attacks. Pressure to protect religions from defamation has been growing, especially since the Danish cartoons controversy in 2005.

IFEX members, such as Freedom House, which co-organised the joint statement, have campaigned extensively against the growing trend of using religious anti-defamation laws to limit free speech.

They argue that religious believers have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their beliefs and are protected as such in international law. But they cannot expect their religion to be free from criticism.

Plus, the 186 signatories say, the resolutions "may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters, and other independent voices," as well as to legitimise archaic anti-blasphemy laws, which surprisingly, are still on the books of many EU member states.

The signatories expressed fear that the defamation of religions concept, which they say has no basis in domestic or international law, will be resurrected in other venues, including the follow-up world conference against racism, dubbed Durban II, to be held in Geneva in April.

The 186 groups are calling upon all governments to oppose the resolution at the Human Rights Council this week, as well as any outcomes at the Durban review conference that directly or indirectly supports the defamation of religions campaign "at the expense of basic freedoms and individual human rights."

Visit these links:
- Joint statement of 186 groups:
- "Combating Defamation of Religions" resolution:
(26 March 2009)

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