By Damien Sharkov
The annual International Blasphemy Day will be marked on Sunday as multiple countries continue to treat this as a criminal offense and dole out convictions.
The date marks a controversial anniversary, stemming from the publication of the 12 cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, which sparked riots in Muslim communities around the world. The incident sparked a wider debate about censorship, criticism of Islam–a religion which strictly prohibits depictions of its most sacred religious figures, let alone ridicule–and about criticism of religion generally.
Now, 13 years later, the offence of blasphemy continues to be criminal not only in some Muslim-majority countries but many others, as it remains an “astonishingly widespread” practice, according to a report published last year by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The report lists 71 countries that punish acts of blasphemy, with the sentences ranging from a mere fine to corporal and even capital punishment.
At least two countries still have the death penalty for blasphemy offences, namely Iran and Pakistan. Sudan still reserves the right to sentence someone to whipping for blaspheming, while Russia and Kazakhstan still punish blasphemy with compulsory and “correctional” labor, respectively.
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