Several countries in the Arab League have been mulling a draft law that would criminalize the defamation of all religions in their nations, local Arabic-language newspapers report.
The legislation, which was presented by Qatar, would make it legal for countries to prosecute individuals who defame, deride or denigrate religions or their prophets, an official working for the country’s Ministry of Justice told Al Arab.
Gulf News translates Ebrahim Mousa Al Hitmi, Qatar justice ministry assistant undersecretary for legal affairs, as saying:
“The main feature of the draft is that it gives every state the right to put on trial those who abuse and hold in contempt religions even if they are outside the country.”
The plan was to present the draft regionally and to the International Union for Muslim scholars, which is chaired by prominent local Islamic scholar Yusuf Al Qaradawi. The law would then be presented to the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union.
But questions have been raised about how the law would affect free speech. In a comment on a Doha News story about the issue last year, Sarita said:
We should all grow up and be respectful in our actions and our speech. But trying to make that happen through the legal code is almost impossible. I think offensive speech should count as free speech, and should not be illegal, even when it is ugly and unfair…
Our response to those offensive acts should be to verbally condemn them and to show ourselves to be better persons than the offender. Making those offensive acts illegal will take us down the road of intolerance ourselves, because drawing the line about what is offensive or disrespectful is too difficult and subjective – it varies from person to person.
Al Hitmi, however, has argued that the legislation would not affect freedom of expression, and would rather only clarify language within countries’ existing penal codes:
“The law does not interfere in any way with the freedom of opinion and expression which is well protected and guaranteed. All penal laws in Arab countries criminalise defamation of religions but there are no specific sanctions when an abuser is outside the country.
Therefore, the main goal of this law is to deter all forms of defamation of religions and give each country that ratifies it the right to file lawsuits against those who offend religions, even if they are not residents.”
The draft is expected to be discussed by the Arab justice ministers when they convene for their next meeting.
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