A court in Pakistan has ordered the authorities temporarily to block the Facebook social networking site.
The order came when a petition was filed after the site held a competition featuring caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
The petition, filed by a lawyers’ group called the Islamic Lawyers’ Movement, said the contest was “blasphemous”.
A message on the competition’s information page said it was not “trying to slander the average Muslim”.
“We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Muhammad depictions that we’re not afraid of them,” a statement on the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” said.
“They can’t take away our right to freedom of speech by trying to scare us into silence.”
The information section of the page said that it was set up by a Seattle-based cartoonist, Molly Norris.
It contains caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and characters from other religions, including Hinduism and Christianity, as well as comments both critical and supportive of Islam.
Publications of similar cartoons in Danish newspapers in 2005 sparked angry protests in Muslim countries – five people were killed in Pakistan.
Already the Pakistani press has reported protests against Facebook on Wednesday by journalists outside parliament in Islamabad, while various Islamic parties are also reported to be organising demonstrations.
Correspondents say that the internet is uncensored in Pakistan but the government monitors content by routing all traffic through a central exchange.
Justice Ejaz Ahmed Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court ordered the department of communications to block the website until 31 May, and to submit a written reply to the petition by that date.
An official told the court that parts of the website that were holding the competition had been blocked, reports the BBC Urdu service’s Abdul Haq in Lahore.
But the petitioner said a partial blockade of a website was not possible and that the entire link had to be blocked.
The lawyers’ group says Pakistan is an Islamic country and its laws do not allow activities that are “un-Islamic” or “blasphemous”.
The judge also directed Pakistan’s foreign ministry to raise the issue at international level.
In the past, Pakistan has often blocked access to pornographic sites and sites with anti-Islamic content.
It has deemed such material as offensive to the political and security establishment of the country, says the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad.
In 2007, the government banned the YouTube site, allegedly to block material offensive to the government of Pervez Musharraf.
The action led to widespread disruption of access to the site for several hours. The ban was later lifted.
On the first day of 2010 (note: not 1310), Ireland’s new blasphemy law came into effect, making statements about the folly of religion punishable by a 25,000 euro fine. Specifically, the law forbids “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion.” Ireland, yet again, has shown the world the toxic result of religious influence on the state. Fortunately, the Irish specialize in blasphemers as well as zealots; a group called Atheist Ireland is flouting the law by posting on its website 25 quotations selected intentionally to outrage religious sensibilities and daring the authorities to prosecute them. They chose a wide range of blasphemy, which was smart, because the new laws, ironically, are intended to promote tolerance. Blasphemy was already a crime in Irish law; the new legislation merely extends the right not to be offended to people of any faith at all.
Alongside quotes from Frank Zappa about “The Cloud Guy who has The Big Book,” the atheists are promoting attacks on Muslims and even Buddhists, such as Icelandic pop singer Björk’s uncharacteristically hostile comment: “The Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say f–k the Buddhists.”
There’s only one blasphemer on the list of 25 blasphemous quotations that’s deemed worthy of two entries, and he is, of course, the greatest blasphemer of them all: Jesus Christ. Two thousand years after his ministry, if Jesus were to choose Ireland as the spot for his return to Earth, he would be fined ¤25,000. I guess the good news is he wouldn’t be crucified. (You have to take progress where you can find it.) Pope Benedict XVI should probably be careful what he says, though. If he were to repeat the remarks he made at the 2006 Regensburg lecture, in the course of which he quoted the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II’s statement that Muhammad’s teachings are “evil and inhuman,” he might well be subject to prosecution.
Surely the problem with a multicultural blasphemy law will be in its implementation: With so many religious violators, whom should the police fine first? The Irish law stipulates that it is meant to punish only people who are “intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents.” Most atheists don’t care enough to blaspheme. Despite the recent spate of atheistic polemics, from Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the rest, we simply don’t have a dog in the fight. Priests, rabbis and imams have to outrage other believers; it’s part of the job description. Muslims are supposed to outrage Christians. Protestants are supposed to outrage Catholics. And they all are supposed to outrage the Jews. Religions are inherently blasphemous against each other, which is exactly why, in successful societies, humanists have managed, through the painful effort of centuries, to kick religion out of government.
Religion is creeping back by any means it can find. The same week that the Irish government redefined blasphemy, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard managed to survive an assault in his house by a Somali man wielding an axe and knife. The assailant wouldn’t have had to attack if they had both been living in Ireland. Rather than being apprehended by the police, the assassin could have contacted them; Westergaard, and not his intended killer, would be the criminal in Ireland.
Religious tolerance has been confused with respect. How can you legislate that people not only put up with other people’s beliefs but validate them? What about new religions? Are they entitled to the same protections? What about people with private religions, i.e., the insane? What about people who believe in gnomes and fairies, an ancient religious tradition? Is it blasphemous to claim that the woods are not possessed by magical spirits? What if you work for the department of forestry? What if you insult little girls’ imaginary friends?
Another problem with the new Irish law is that the truth itself is blasphemous. It’s hard to report the events of the past two decades without “intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents.” The Irish government reported that the Dublin diocese of the Catholic Church tolerated “endemic sexual abuse” and sheltered more than 170 pedophile priests from justice for decades. Could you make a more damning statement about any religious group? The Pope goes to AIDS-ravaged Africa and tells people not to use condoms. He welcomes Holocaust-deniers into the priesthood. He commences the process for turning Hitler’s Pope into a saint. No atheist needs to make stuff up. What’s more blasphemous to the Catholic Church than the newspaper?
Religion is trying to make a comeback into the public sphere through the back door, not by insisting on intolerance, but by demanding a respect that it’s done nothing to earn. Fortunately, there will always be blasphemers to stand in the way.
An atheist group in the Irish Republic has defied a new blasphemy law by publishing a series of anti-religious quotations on its website.
Atheist Ireland says it will fight any action taken against it in court.
The quotations include the words of writers such as Mark Twain and Salman Rushdie, but also Jesus Christ, the Prophet Muhammad and Pope Benedict XVI.
The new law makes blasphemy a crime punishable by a fine of up to 25,000 euros (£22,000; $35,000).
The government says it is needed because the republic’s 1937 constitution only gives Christians legal protection of their beliefs.
The new law was passed in July 2009 but came into force on 1 January.
Atheist Ireland responded by publishing 25 quotes it considers anti-religious on its website.
The group said its aim is to have the law repealed and to attain a secular Irish constitution.
Chairman Michael Nugent said it would challenge the blasphemy law through the courts if it were charged, the London-based Guardian newspaper reported.
“This new law is both silly and dangerous,” he said. “It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas.”
Atheist Ireland says it will hold a series of public meetings around the country to launch its campaign.
It does seem bizarre that, in 2009, a modern European nation would seek to shield religious belief from criticism – yet that is what is happening in Ireland right now. In repealing the 1961 Defamation Act, the Irish government sought to expunge the worst excesses of Ireland’s draconian laws restricting free speech, but in the process it has ended up making offending religious belief a criminal offence.
Aside from a €25,000 fine (reduced from the €100,000 originally sought by the government), the new Defamation Act gives the authorities the power to stage raids on publishers: the courts may now issue a warrant authorising the police to enter, using ‘reasonable force’, premises where they have grounds for believing there are copies of ‘blasphemous statements’.
Many are asking why on earth blasphemy should be criminalised, particularly at a time when the Catholic Church in Ireland is being investigated for widespread child abuse and its public image has hit rock bottom.
The government has responded to its critics by saying there is a constitutional requirement for a specific blasphemy law in Ireland. Indeed so: freedom of speech is guaranteed by Article 40.6.1 of the Irish constitution. However, it goes on to prohibit the publication of ‘blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter’. One might call the Irish constitution a clear case of the left hand giving and the right hand taking away.
The fact that this has been the case since the constitution came into effect in 1937 seems to have blinded the government to its usual option: the traditional Irish response to divisive issues is to pretend that they don’t exist. It is not for nothing that Ireland’s acceptance of abortion for those with enough money to travel to Britain is called ‘an Irish solution to an Irish problem’.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the constitution, only one case was ever taken under the blasphemy prohibition since the introduction of the constitution in 1937 (a 1999 case against a newspaper, in which the Supreme Court concluded that it was not possible to say ‘of what the offence of blasphemy consists’ and that ‘the state is not placed in the position of an arbiter of religious truth’). So, at the very least, it seems peculiar to bring the issue into the light of day in 2009.
It is true that the repeal of the 1961 Defamation Act and its replacement with (slightly) less outrageous legislation would leave a hole in the statute books if blasphemy were not outlawed. Yet the obvious answer is to amend the constitution, which, in Ireland, requires a popular referendum. Yet the minister behind the update to the defamation laws, Dermot Ahern, says that a referendum would be ‘costly and unwarranted’. The government is, however, perfectly happy to pay to send the country to the polls on the issue of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty for a second time. Presumably no cost is too high so long as the people make the decision the establishment wants.
Thanks to JT for the tip.
Â Err, I think England needs to revise their laws, this is law that you should only see in a Theocracy.
A Christian group trying to prosecute the producer and broadcaster of Jerry Springer – The Opera under blasphemy laws will take its case to the high court in London today.
Christian Voice wants to bring a case against Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, and Jonathan Thoday, producer of the award-winning musical, for blasphemous libel, but was refused permission by City of Westminster magistrates court. The group is hoping to launch what would be only the third prosecution in more than 80 years for an offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The last successful prosecution was brought by Mary Whitehouse in 1977 against Gay News for publishing a poem, The Love that Dares to Speak its Name, about a Roman soldier’s homosexual love for Christ. The human rights group Liberty, which has been allowed to intervene in the high court judicial review, says the law is outdated and argues that free speech rights must protect sacred, profane and secular language alike.