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As UN meets, apply pressure against blasphemy laws

Blasphemy and other religious-defamation laws in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and even Russia put people behind bars and on death row. As the UN General Assembly begins, these countries must be put under intense pressure to conform to global human rights standards.

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Salman Taseer, right, Governor of Pakistani Punjab Province, listens to Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, left, at a prison near Lahore, Nov. 20, 2010. Taseer was shot dead Jan. 4, 2011, apparently because he had spoken out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Op-ed contributor Robert P. George writes: 'By maintaining and enforcing [blasphemy] laws' countries like Pakistan 'not only violate international human rights law, they flatly reject UN resolutions.'

AP/File

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As the UN General Assembly begins its new session, a colossal gulf is again visible – a gulf between what international human rights law and UN resolutions say, and what some member nations do. A concrete effort must be made by the international community to close this gulf.

One glaring example is how some countries treat people who dare to express dissenting views about religion. A number of nations uphold and enforce laws that punish their own citizens for religious dissent or what they view as deviance from sacred norms. Under such laws and practices, dissidents may find their views labeled as blasphemous, defamatory, or insulting to religious symbols, figures, or feelings. If they are tried and convicted, some face draconian punishments, including execution.

The 2013 Annual Report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom highlights the most outrageous example: In Pakistan at least 17 individuals remain on death row on blasphemy convictions, while 20 more are serving life sentences. At the same time, violent religious extremists have taken the law into their own hands, murdering individual Pakistanis accused of blasphemy.

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