After Nupur Sharma’s derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad on a Times Now show sparked an uproar, at home and abroad, the BJP leader was booked by the police in Maharashtra under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. In the recent past, Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami and standup comedian have been booked under this law – both, like Nupur, for maliciously seeking to insult religious sentiments.
Section 295A punishes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” with imprisonment of up to three years or a fine or both. It’s India’s blasphemy law essentially.
India, however, is generally not listed among countries with blasphemy laws, mainly because Section 295A doesn’t explicitly mention or define blasphemy. A 2019 Research Center analysis found 79 countries with laws or policies banning blasphemy – “speech or actions considered to be contemptuous of God or of people or objects considered sacred” – and 22 countries with laws against apostasy. In several of these countries, mainly Muslim monarchies in the Middle East, the offences against religion carry harsh punishments. Here are some examples:
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Article 1 of General Principles of Saudi Arabia states, “Its religion is Islam. Its constitution is Almighty God’s Book, The Holy Quran, and the Sunnah of the Prophet.” And under the Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic Sharia law which the Saudi monarchy follows, . Blasphemy is punished under the same law.
In 2021 a Saudi court sentenced Yemini journalist to 15 years in prison for “apostasy” after he allegedly posted tweets, using multiple fake accounts, denying the existence of God, promoting atheism, and insulting the Prophet.
Previously, in 2013, a Saudi court had punished blogger with 10 years in prison, a thousand lashes and a fine of a million riyals for “insulting Islam”. His website reportedly promoted the adoption of secular values and was critical of religious authorities. Badawi was publicly whipped 50 times, spent some time in jail and was released last year.
In 2011, , an Australian on the Haj pilgrimage, was arrested for “insulting the Prophet’s companions”, and sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in prison.
Article 209 of the Sultanate’s penal law punishes blasphemy with a maximum 10 years in jail.
In 2016, activist was sentenced to three years in prison for blasphemy, and for insulting the Sultan. He died in prison in 2018.
More recently in 2022, two were sentenced to three to five years in prison. They were accused of sending messages and tweets “insulting and offending God” and “insulting monotheistic religions”.
Article 111 of the penal code punishes belittling of the beliefs, practices, rituals or teachings of Islam with imprisonment of upto a year and a fine.
In 2012, a Kuwaiti court sentenced blogger to 10 years in prison under Article 111 and the National Security Law. He was accused of posting tweets that criticised the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and insulted the Prophet Muhammed and his followers.
In 2016, academic Sheikha al-Jassem was charged with blasphemy after a complainant claimed that he had been “” by her statement, made in a TV interview, that the constitution of Kuwait should be above the Quran and the Islamic law in governing the country.
United Arab Emirates
Article 312 of the penal code mandates a jail term of upto one year for anyone who is found to have abused the rituals or practices of Islam, insulted any recognised religion, condoned or encouraged sin, and, in case of a Muslim, eat pork knowingly.
In 2021, , an Indian man who had renounced his faith, was sentenced to prison for three years for criticising the Quran and the Hadith on social media after being arrested under the blasphemy law.
Another Indian, , was jailed for 15 years and fined 500,000 dirhams, failing to pay which he would be jailed for life, after being accused by his colleagues of hurting their religious sentiments in 2019. Originally from Uttar Pradesh, Pandey worked in the Union Cement Factory in UAE.
In 2007, a was given the death sentence for allegedly cursing God and the Prophet. In 2008, three were jailed after being accused of blasphemy for ripping a page out of the Quran and scribbling on it.
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