Muslim Countries Seek U.N. Ban to Shield Religions

Defamation Seen as Inconsistent With Freedom of Expression

BEIRUT, Lebanon, FEB. 15, 2006 ( Fifty-seven Muslim governments are pressing to include a ban on the mocking of religions in a planned new U.N. human rights body, AsiaNews reported.

The 57 governments previously had announced their intention to have the United Nations ban such mocking of religion, the news agency said.

According to the text of the Muslim countries’ proposal, the new U.N. body should strive to “prevent instances of intolerance, discrimination, incitement of hatred and violence arising from any actions against religions, prophets and beliefs, which threaten the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In a clear reference to the Mohammed cartoons controversy, the proposal states that “defamation of religions and prophets is inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression.”

To achieve this goal, Egypt, for example, is trying to persuade the European Union to support the ban. After talks with EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana in Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit said the proposal on banning defamation of religions was discussed.

Al-Azhar Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, Sunni Islam’s highest religious authority, told Solana that the resolution should include sanctions.

Solana refused to say whether a resolution would be presented to the General Assembly. He did note, however, that a mechanism is under study that would reconcile the principles of a common declaration made by the European Union, the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.