Global Freedom of Expression

IBAHRI Report on International Standards Relating to Blasphemy Laws and Media Freedom

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The report of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, the independent advisory body of the Media Freedom Coalition, was authored by Panel Member, Karuna Nundy, lawyer at the Supreme Court of India and international lawyer.

This report was originally published by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. It has been reproduced here with permission and thanks. 

This report is set out in five parts. First, it refers to the author’s and National Law University Delhi’s original work compiling blasphemy laws globally. It then sets out the key elements of international free speech standards and how they relate to blasphemy. The report then tests blasphemy laws and analyses how and why they fail to meet these minimum requirements.

Second, it analyses the overlap between blasphemy and hate speech.

Third, it analyses how the implementation of blasphemy laws by states damages journalism and often falls short of minimum fair trial and due process standards, with a focus on the prosecution of journalists under these laws.

Fourth, it considers recent reforms to blasphemy laws, both to repeal or reduce their impact as well as to strengthen them.

And finally, it provides recommendations for states regarding blasphemy laws.

Blasphemy, in this report, includes laws regulating speech that insults or defames one or more gods, the tenets, leaders or followers of a particular religion or religion in general. It includes laws framed as ‘blasphemy’ in national systems as well as laws penalising apostasy (which bar the abandonment or renunciation of religious faith) or heresy (which penalise opinion or doctrine contrary to the accepted dogma).

This report is not an exhaustive survey of such laws nor does it cover general defamation laws, hate speech laws, or the international standards relating to these laws more generally. The primary research for this report was largely carried out between 2019 and 2020. While efforts have been made to capture recent updates and amendments to laws up to April 2023, such information may not be entirely covered within this report.

Read the full report below or find it here.


Karuna Nundy

Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India; International human rights lawyer, India