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Capsule Report - International/United Nations

Capsule Report - International/United Nations

2 October 2006

IPI worried calls to prevent "defamation of religions" may encourage media persecution

SOURCE: International Press Institute (IPI), Vienna

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 29 September 2006 IPI press release:

Vienna, 29 September 2006 - IPI Worried by use of "Defamation of Religions" Phrase in International Statements, Fears it may encourage Media Persecution

The International Press Institute (IPI) is becoming increasingly alarmed at the use of phrases calling for the prevention of the "defamation of religions" in a series of documents issued by the United Nations (UN).

The phrase "defamation of religions" has its origins in a draft resolution brought before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in 1999 by Pakistan's then-permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, and was originally titled, "Defamation of Islam."

Because of criticism that the draft resolution unfairly highlighted one religion, the title was later amended to "Defamation of Religions" and passed by the UNCHR as Resolution 1999/82 of 30 April 1999. Since the passage of this resolution, there have been other resolutions containing the phrase, including a 12 April 2005 resolution before the UNCHR titled, "Combating Defamation of Religions." Tabled once again by Pakistan, the resolution expressed the need to "effectively combat defamation of all religions."

Recently, on 8 September, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a global counter-terrorism strategy that contained the phrase, "and to promote mutual respect for and prevent defamation of religions." In a speech before the UN General Assembly on 20 September, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf called for a ban on the "defamation of Islam."

Commenting on the issue, IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said, "The growing acceptance of this phrase at the international level has worrying implications for freedom of the media."

"In a conference in mid-July hosted by the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe], I warned that the UN's willingness to use the word 'defamation' in conjunction with religion remains a lingering concern. It could provide suitable legal cover and justification for several countries wishing to introduce fresh blasphemy laws. If this were to happen, the media would find it increasingly difficult to comment upon religious principles, religious practices and even religious leaders," Fritz added.

"While I accept that journalists should be tolerant of religion and, when necessary, express themselves sensitively, I am very concerned that the 'space' for the media to report critically is gradually being eroded. I am also worried that this disturbing trend is being aided and abetted by governments and inter-governmental organisations who share the view that the news media are playing a role in encouraging and promoting terrorism."

"Xenophobia and racism should be rightfully condemned at every possible opportunity. However, in the argument about their impact on the promotion of terrorism, it seems that press freedom and freedom of expression are being increasingly ignored to the detriment of all who believe that a critical media has a role to play in democratic societies," said Fritz.


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