Some religions believe blasphemy to be a crime. Blasphemy is defined as a ‘matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion’ with safeguards under the Defamation Act 2009 to make it harder to prosecute.
Ahmed Hasain, the executive secretary of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin said:
“In our view, the sale of this magazine is a breach in Irish law. It is blasphemous and it is illegal under the legislation. It’s against the law here in Ireland; that is quite clear”.
This means that individuals or groups have the right under Irish law to use the legislation to attempt to prosecute anyone distributing the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Meanwhile secular and atheist groups have been campaigning since its amendment in 2009 for it to be abolished.
Blasphemy in Ireland is a crime punishable with a fine up to £19,000.
Kevin Sheehan, a committee member of Atheist Ireland, says the blasphemy law is toothless: “There’s no definition of the word blasphemy. There was a case in 2003 but the court threw it out.
“The later law in 2009 tried to clarify the situation but it still doesn’t define it. And the Attorney General has refused to do any more prosecutions”.
“How do you define outrage?” he asks.
“Each of us would have a different version of outrage. The Islamic Society of Ireland is going to try and bring a prosecution but they’ll have to request the Attorney General to do that but his track record suggests that he won’t”.
“In 2009 we publicly blasphemed like mad to try and get him to prosecute us – and he didn’t. It’s a toothless appeasement of a certain section of society”, says Sheehan.
Atheist Ireland has launched a new international campaign against blasphemy laws, joining forces with other secular groups in Britain, Canada, Iceland, the US and New Zealand. They are organizing an online global petition against laws, which they say, “legitimise mob violence, vigilantism and persecution of minorities”.
Atheist Ireland is to meet with the Irish Prime Minister, Edna Kenny in Dublin next Tuesday. The advocacy group is pushing for a referendum on abolishing the law before the 2016 general election.