United Nations General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann has called for a world ban on anyone defaming any religion. According to him, while there does exist a right to free speech and expression, the international community should aim towards the comity of religions. Notably,  there is a steady and worrisome trend of stories in Western countries restricting free speech in the name of tolerance of religion, sexual orientation and other values.For instance, in September criminal charges filed against leading French author Pierre Péan, who is charged with racial hatred for derogatory things said about Tutsis in a book in a book about Rwandan genocide.

Jonathan Turley puts forth the idea that this comment by the UNGA President is not way out of line as many Islamic states prosecute people for blasphemy and even issue fatwas against those who speak foul against their religion. He states;

A suspended Nicaraguan priest, D’Escoto is little concerned about the devastating blow to free speech and free press in such a rule — dangers already realized in various countries where speaking against a religion has resulted in criminal penalties and even death. In making this outrageous call, D’Escoto has given critics of international legal systems a great boost — showing the dangers of such rules in restricting cherished constitutional rights.

Looking at this in the context of Indian Law, the Indian Penal Code contains a series of sections from 295 where in words/ acts ‘deliberately’ said so as to hurt the feelings of any religion are a crime and punishable in law. However, in a series of case law, the Court has said that such acts would only constitute a crime when it is done ‘deliberately’, i.e. with an intent and tending to disrupt public order. This law is more of a synthesis between free speech and religious concerns.

The actions of the President, when not seen in isolation, as evidence to a general movement towards placing restrictions on rights in the name of public order and state security. We have seen that happening in India, the United States, UK and now coming from the President of the United Nations General Assembly.

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