Wednesday 17 January 2018

All anti-blasphemy laws present human rights risks. But Ireland’s one is the least toxic in the world

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry

Joelle Fiss

Last May, the Irish may have cringed in embarrassment when they woke up to the embarrassing news that the police were investigating remarks made by actor Stephen Fry, for committing the alleged “crime” of blasphemy. In a 2015 television interview, Fry had accused God of being a selfish maniac, and asked: why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain? Days later, the investigation was dropped because there was no injured party. In fact, not even the original complainant had considered himself offended by Fry’s remarks.

On the other side of the world, at the same time, allegations of blasphemy were also in the headlines in Indonesia. The Governor of Jakarta, popularly known as Ahok, was accused of “defaming the Koran” during his re-election campaign in September 2016. In a series of rallies organised by Islamist groups, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in the streets of Jakarta, calling on him to resign. A high-profile and politically-charged trial lasted for several months. On 8 May 2017 -- around the same time Irish police were investigating Stephen Fry-- he was sentenced to two years in prison. As soon as the verdict was announced, he was swept off in a police van to complete his sentence in a prison in east Jakarta. Most ironically, he had quoted a verse of the Koran to call for greater religious pluralism. His quest for diversity sadly backfired.

While in both cases the country’s blasphemy law was invoked, there couldn't be starker differences. Is it even possible to compare Ireland’s and Indonesia’s laws at all? 

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