December 18, 2008 / 9:57 PM / 10 years ago

U.N. assembly again votes against defaming religion

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly condemned defamation of religion for the fourth year running on Thursday, ignoring critics who said the resolution threatens freedom of speech.

The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by 86 votes to 53 with 42 abstentions. Opponents noted that support had fallen since last year, when the vote was 108-51 with 25 abstentions.

The seven-page text urges states to provide “adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general.”

Critics said its provisions strike at basic rights of free expression and opinion. One clause states that exercise of those rights “carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to limitations.”

The resolution only specifically mentions Islam. It deplores ethnic and religious profiling of Muslims since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States and says Islam is often and wrongly associated with terrorism.

Islamic states say such resolutions do not aim to limit free speech but to stop publications like the Danish cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed that sparked bloody protests by Muslims around the world in 2005.

Russia and China joined Arab and some African states in voting for the resolution.

This year’s resolution drew attention because of reports that Islamic states aim to include a similar call against religious defamation in a key U.N. document on racism.

The declaration, to be issued at a U.N. conference in Geneva in April, will update an earlier anti-racism document issued by a conference in Durban, South Africa, which some countries and rights bodies said was marred by anti-Semitism.

A discussion paper from Algeria’s U.N. envoy in Geneva suggests “seriously or gratuitously offensive attacks on matters regarded as sacred by the followers of any religion” ought to be banned.

Angela Wu of the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said Thursday’s U.N. resolution had “given cover to oppressive governments to persecute dissenters ... States have no place determining what is and is not blasphemy.”

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