Regional Consultation on Expression, Opinion and Religious Freedom in Asia Highlights Hazards in Criminalization and the Need for Movement to Change Paradigm

Jakarta, 5 June 2015—HRRC participated in the Regional Consultation on Expression, Opinion and Religious Freedom in Asia held on 3-5 June 2015, in Jakarta, Indonesia. The consultation was organised by Bytes for All Pakistan, in collaboration with FORUM-ASIA, Global Partners Digital, the Association for Progressive Communication, the Internet Democracy Project, ICT Watch and KontraS. The organizers invited Dr. David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, as well as his predecessor, Mr. Frank La Rue.

Dr. Kaye, in his keynote speech, observed that we live in a transitional moment, in a world where there are two overriding tensions: rule of law vs rule of identity. Rule of Law is described as the principle of being governed by objective rules adopted in democratic process, one of the aims of which is to protect the vulnerable. On the other hand, in rule of identity politics and law are constructed around an identity—either tribal, tradition, or way of seeing the world. Rule of identity, Dr. Kaye asserted, is of a great concern because the governing principle of identity is discriminatory. While he perceived that rule of identity has to be rejected, it would also be a mistake not to acknowledge the powerful hold of identity to people. Thus Dr. Kaye advocates for the implementation of Rabat Plan of Action, and to use it as a tool for advocacy. Its values should be consolidated, moving it from the international discourse to national implementation at the legal, political, and social levels.

Mr. Frank La Rue noted that, while limitation of hate speech is in some contexts necessary, any limitation of the right needs to be for the purpose of protecting against violation of rights and should be necessary and proportional, pursuant to Article 19 and 20 of ICCPR. He advocated for minimization of criminalization, recalling that while Article 19 includes the reputation and honour of individuals as a cause for limitation, it can take the form of defamation as a civil law matter. Limitation based on national security, public order, public health and public moral, Mr. La Rue emphasized, has to be clearly defined and cannot be decided or issued by the implementing authorities.

Attended by human rights defenders, activists and journalists from various parts of Asia, the consultation served as a forum to discuss and debate issues related to freedom of religious expression in Asia. During the two and a half days, discussions amongst participants noted the regional trends and challenges related to freedom of expression in the context of religion, including politicization of religion—which gives rise to reluctance on the part of the State to bring perpetrators to justice for fear of losing popular support, if not outright legitimization of human rights violations. It was also noted that there is a revitalization of the discourse on defamation of religion, coupled by reluctance by several governments in Asia to heed the international community to decriminalize blasphemy and apostasy.