Thursday, October 30, 2014


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Dutch Parliament To Revoke Blasphemy Law

A court ruled in 2011 that Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders had the right to criticize Islam.
A court ruled in 2011 that Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders had the right to criticize Islam.
By Frud Bezhan
Insulting God will no longer be a crime in the Netherlands after the Dutch parliament decided to revoke a decades-old blasphemy law from the statute books.

The law, which was drafted in the 1930s, had not been used for half a century, leading legislators to decide there was no longer a need for it.

Discussions over whether to formally abolish blasphemy restrictions in the Netherlands began a decade ago as part of a debate about the limits of freedom of expression.

But Marc Veldt, a media-law lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht, says the decision was made possible by national elections in September, in which two liberal parties emerged victorious. Far-right and conservative parties, which had opposed lifting the blasphemy ban, took heavy losses in the poll.

Veldt says the move to lift the ban on blasphemy was also an indirect result of the legal case involving anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders. In June 2011, a Dutch court ruled that Wilders had the right to criticize Islam, even though his opinions insulted many Muslims.

Wilders, who leads the Freedom Party, had described Islam as "fascist" and compared Islam's holy book, the Koran, to Adolf Hitler's autobiography and political manifesto "Mein Kampf." Amsterdam judge Marcel van Oosten said Wilders' statements were directed at Islam and not at Muslims. Van Oosten said the statements were "gross and denigrating" but still "acceptable within the context of public debate."

Wilders said at the time that the verdict was "not only an acquittal for me, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands."

The decision to abolish the country's blasphemy law has been hailed by activists internationally, who have long called it outdated and a threat to free speech.

Push Back Against Blasphemy Laws

One of them is Padraig Reidy, a news editor at "Index on Censorship," a magazine based in London that is devoted to protecting freedom of expression.

Reidy says many European states still have laws prohibiting blasphemy, although in many cases such legislation has not been invoked for decades. Different European countries have taken their own trajectories on the issue in recent years, making it hard to discern a clear trend.

Britain, for example, scrapped a blasphemy law in 2008, which had made it illegal to insult Christianity. But it has since replaced it with a more general law against incitement to religious hatred.

Ireland introduced a new law in 2010 that makes blasphemy a crime punishable by a fine of up to 25,000 euros ($32,485). The Irish law defines blasphemy as "publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defenses permitted."

Reidy argues that blasphemy laws are no longer relevant in the 21st century. He says there is no place for a law defending religion, which he calls an "ideal." He says it should be people who have rights, not ideals.

"There's no question that blasphemy laws are a severe restriction on free speech. Any push back against blasphemy laws -- [against the notion that ideas] should be protected -- is a good thing. It's very important that blasphemy laws should be repealed," Reidy says.

Even with the repeal of the blasphemy law, it still remains an offense under Dutch law to insult police officers or Queen Beatrix, the country's monarch. Laws also protect individuals and groups from hate speech.

Frud Bezhan

Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org. 

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 30, 2012 12:44
Aah.that`s Dutch courage for you-the Nether landers should have done that a long time ago to sink their lands even lower!!! Who needs blasphemy laws??? All we need is underage girls showing their wares in street windows,legalizing not only pot but heroin and cocain as well,and Pussy Riot-Femen style hanky panky in churches and -why not-in kindergardens as well-We must teach our children all the amenities of modern Civilization as early as possible.LGBT or die!!! Amen!!!
In Response

by: Pete Smith from: Spain
December 01, 2012 00:54
About time ALL civilised countries deleted their mediaeval blasphemy laws. They belong to the realms of savages and barbarians.
In Response

by: Chris King from: Dublin Ca. USA
December 07, 2012 17:28
Blasphemy laws are for the spineless idiots who typically use the law to persecute the innocent. Down with these 14th century barbarians.

by: Jack from: US
December 01, 2012 15:37
don't worry, Dutch will do what Washington mafia orders them to do, just like Germans. If needs to they will put in jail anyone who dares to criticize Muslims, Jews, or Hillary Clinton

by: monkey for sale from: London
December 02, 2012 10:42
This article is muddled . It seems to claim that it was only possible for the change in the law because of an left win in the election . At the same time stating that Geert Wilders' win in the courts paved the way for the change in the law .

Make your mind up - or is it any excuse to gift the so-called liberals with a prize for a change in the law?
In Response

by: James from: Nebraska, USA
December 08, 2012 05:22
Not so muddled, really. The liberals in the Netherlands were opposed to the restrictions on any such speech, even someone as odious as Wilder. When Wilder won his case in the courts, the liberals (not conservatives) moved to oust the law. This is the classic definition of liberal: accommodation of the greatest number of people possible. Even odious people are still people, and such ideas are better exposed to the light of day where they can wither and die.

by: tonjia rolan from: clovis New mexico
December 09, 2012 20:35
Wooooohoooooo!!!!! Let FREEDOM Ring!!!!!!!

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