More governments, as they pursue violators on the Internet, are newly enforcing blasphemy laws. Voice of America (Jan. 13) reports that many of these governments are most notably majority Muslim nations and are turning to anti-blasphemy laws to punish transgressions against Islam that move beyond targeting public offenses to ones expressed over the Internet.
The article cites a recent Pew survey showing that 22 percent of governments have some form of anti-blasphemy laws on the books, with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Indonesia most aggressively pursuing blasphemy cases. “But as Internet use spreads, so too do prosecutions based on people’s online activities,” writes Doug Bernard. Because of the enduring quality of online comments and social media posts, it is easier to scrutinize what people are doing online and then, using such evidence, build a legal case against offenders, according to one human rights official.
Ironically, the spread of blasphemy allegations from online activity accelerated following the Arab Spring and the rapid growth of social media around the world. Elisabeth Cassidy of the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says “I think we saw more people willing to say things online that they weren’t willing to say before, so that’s a worry. And we’re seeing more moves against people who say they are atheist or are questioning the existence of God.” The cases against people charged with online blasphemy can be as simple as an individual making a disrespectful comment toward a religion on Facebook or on an Internet forum.