New Report Sheds Light on Blasphemy Laws in Southeast Asia

New Report Sheds Light on Blasphemy Laws in Southeast Asia

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a report on Wednesday that examines the current state of blasphemy laws and their enforcement within the region of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“Blasphemy laws can legitimize vigilantism, mob violence, and the persecution of minority faith communities,” the report explains. “They often criminalize any form of expression that allegedly insults or offends religious doctrines, making it essentially illegal to express religious views that differ from the government or majority interpretation.”

Among the report’s findings:

In Indonesia, the frequency of blasphemy prosecutions and convictions has significantly increased since the country’s transition to democracy in 1998. Recently, people have been arrested on charges of blasphemy because of statements or images on social media, and in February, a community leader reported the government’s minister of religion to police after the minister made public comments about the volume of the call to prayer at local mosques.

In Thailand, “The 1962 Sangha Act … prohibits the defamation or insult of Buddhism and the Buddhist clergy.”

Malaysia’s penal code criminalizes blasphemy, and “ethnic Malays are constitutionally mandated to identify as Muslims.”

Brunei, with an authoritarian government and strict interpretation of Islamic law, leaves “little to no room for individual freedom of religion or belief outside of the state’s narrow interpretation of Islam.” However, because the government strictly controls the flow of information, USCIRF has not found any instances of blasphemy laws being enforced.

“The criminalization of speech perceived to insult religion under apostasy, blasphemy and religious hate speech laws remains a persistent religious freedom issue throughout ASEAN,” the report says. “The vague wording of blasphemy laws often hampers the rights of individuals to interpret their religion or belief for themselves and determine their own religious identity.”

Photo: Chatchai Somwat/Alamy Stock Photo

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