Atheists Celebrating 'Blasphemy Rights Day' Say Criticizing Religion Is 'Human Right'

(Photo: Reuters/Mohsin Raza)A woman holds a placard during a rally by dozens protesting the killing of the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer in Lahore, Pakistan, January 8, 2011. Taseer was shot dead by one of his guards, who was apparently incensed by the politician's opposition to the blasphemy law, in Islamabad on January 4, 2011.

An atheist group celebrating the upcoming International Blasphemy Rights Day on Friday, has said that laws around the world that restrict or punish those who criticize religion take away the rights of atheists, Christians, and other people.

"In too many countries around the world, criticizing religion is illegal. We've seen the consequences of these laws too many times — when a tweet or a post on Facebook declaring one's atheism or questioning a tenet of religion leads to arrests, beatings, prison, and sometimes death sentences," the Center for Inquiry, which set up the first event in 2009, said in a statement on Monday.

"Sometimes religious militants make their own laws, deciding for themselves that expressions of dissent justify brutal killings, like the grisly murders of secularists in Bangladesh, or attacks on religious minorities in Pakistan," the group added.

The Facebook page for International Blasphemy Rights Day has highlighted the stories of several different people who have faced jail time or other punishments for criticizing or doing something that goes against the dominant religion of their respective countries.

One story reported by The Mirror earlier in September noted that Russian blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky is facing a potential five years in prison for filming himself playing the Pokemon Go mobile game while in church, which led to his arrest on the charges of "preventing the realization of the right to freedom of conscience and religion and incitement of hatred."

Another report highlighted the four-year legal battle of Turkish pianist Fazıl Say, who had to fight his country's legal system over charges of "insulting religious beliefs held by a section of society" for re-tweeting several lines by an 11th century Persian poet.

Christians have also suffered greatly under blasphemy laws, such as the case of Christian mother of five Asia Bibi in Pakistan.

Bibi has served five years in prison and faced a suspended death sentence for allegedly insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad during an argument with a group of Muslim women she had been working with, which has prompted campaigns for her release by persecution watchdog groups.

Michael De Dora, director of the CFI's Office of Public Policy, noted that many governments have strongly condemned blasphemy laws.

"The problem is many of these condemnations are just words. What we could really use is more governments using the possibility of changing or pulling out of trade and other agreements to put some force behind these words," he added.

CFI, which announced several different themes planned for each day leading up to International Blasphemy Rights Day on Friday, urged readers to "show your solidarity with those with the courage to speak out, and stand in defiance of those who would silence them."

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