Many countries around the world have laws that punish expression deemed blasphemous, defamatory of religion, or contemptuous or insulting to religion or religious symbols, figures, or feelings. The application of these laws has resulted in individuals being jailed for merely expressing a different religious belief or being falsely accused.
In January 2015, USCIRF issued a press release, USCIRF Statement on flogging of Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi. From the press release:
“Raif Badawi was the victim of a cruel and barbaric act carried out by the Saudi justice system – unfortunately, business as usual in the Kingdom. And for nothing more than creating an online forum for diverse views to be expressed freely.”
In July 2013, Mr. Badawi had been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes and his website was shut down. In May 2014, a Saudi appeals court overturned that verdict and the retrial resulted in a harsher sentence: Mr. Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and fined 1 million SR ($266,000 USD) for, among other charges, insulting Islam and religious authorities. The current sentence calls for Mr. Badawi to be lashed 50 times a week for 20 consecutive weeks. The first lashing took place on January 9. Last year Mr. Badawi's lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, was sentenced by the newly created anti-terror court to 15 years in jail after being found guilty on trumped-up charges related to his work as a human rights defender.
In June 2014, USCIRF released an op-ed entitled Pakistan’s war on conscience. From the op-ed:
“In 2014, Pakistani courts already have sentenced four people to death for violating Pakistan's blasphemy law, and another has received a life sentence. They join at least 13 others on death row and 19 serving life sentences. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) […] has found that Pakistan has jailed more people for this "crime" than any other country.”
In March 2014, USCIRF released a Policy Brief entitled Prisoners of Belief: Individuals Jailed under Blasphemy Laws, which highlights the increasing use and application of blasphemy laws and individuals jailed for this “crime.” From the policy brief:
“Blasphemy laws inappropriately position governments as arbiters of truth or religious rightness, as they empower officials to enforce particular religious views against individuals, minorities, and dissenters. In practice, they have proven to be ripe for abuse and easily manipulated with false accusations.”