Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Hate Speech Laws in Africa

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The freedoms of opinion and expression and of religion or belief are intricately intertwined—where violations occur against one, there are often violations against the other. Although these human rights are protected under articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), states around the world continue to pass and enforce laws that restrict both freedoms. This paper provides a survey and analysis of speech restrictions in Africa that have, or may, limit FoRB. Laws that restrict apostasy (the public renunciation of one’s religion), blasphemy (the insult of a religion or religious objects or places), and hate speech (generally encompassing communication that prejudices a particular group based on race, religion, ethnicity, or other factor) all limit freedom of expression. Such laws also have unique implications for citizens’ abilities to express and practice their faith. These laws are prevalent throughout Africa, where at least 9 countries have apostasy laws, at least 25 criminalize blasphemy, and at least 29 have laws against hate speech.