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And in Pakistan, whose blasphemy laws are internationally renowned for their broadness and severity, the legal protections on religious insult are used most often to protect Islam. Being charged with a blasphemy offense — or criticizing the laws themselves — can open the door to intimidation, or worse. Earlier this year, two Pakistani officials who had been critical of the laws were assassinated.
The OIC, looking for international cooperation on the issue of religious tolerance, has pushed for so-called “defamation” resolutions before the United Nations for over a decade. Those resolutions were Islam-focused and called on governments to take action to stop religious defamation.
Though the OIC took a pass on the resolution this year, the U.N. Human Rights Council in March approved a watered-down version that expresses concerns about religious “intolerance, discrimination and related violence.” The adoption was generally seen as a successful move by the U.S. to replace the far-tougher resolutions the OIC has pushed over the past decade.
But the upcoming meeting has been hailed by some OIC officials as a way to craft a tougher approach to curbing religious criticism.
An August article from the International Islamic News Agency cited OIC “informed sources” saying the meetings were meant to develop a “legal basis” for the March resolution.
The State Department official noted that the Human Rights Council’s resolution does not call for limits on free speech or provide support for defamation or blasphemy laws.
“Instead, the text notes the positive role that the free exchange of ideas and interfaith dialogue can have in countering religious intolerance,” the official said. “We believe that implementing the specific, appropriate steps called for in the resolution will help to undercut support for such restrictions on expression and religious freedom.”
But Shea questioned why Clinton was moving to implement the non-binding measure.
“It validates the OIC on speech,” she said. “It plays into their agenda.”
The meeting has been set for Dec. 12-14, and is expected to be hosted by Suzan Johnson Cook, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. It’s unclear whether Clinton will attend. The meeting was announced around the same time as the Norway terror attacks, carried out by an individual said to harbor anti-Muslim views.
December’s meeting is the first in a series — focusing on engaging religious minorities and training officials on religious awareness, as well as “enforcing laws that protect against” religious discrimination, according to the State Department.
Lindsay Vessey, advocacy director with Open Doors USA, said her group is “cautiously optimistic” about the meetings. Vessey, whose organization advocates for persecuted Christians and has criticized the “defamation” resolutions in the past, said her organization remains hopeful the upcoming conference will turn out to be a “good thing.”
The conservative Traditional Values Coalition last month sent a letter to Clinton asking that the group be included as part of the discussion. President Andrea Lafferty told FoxNews.com her organization is “very concerned” the administration is becoming “cozy” with the OIC, which she claimed wants to “silence” voices critical of Islam.
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