Desecrating Expression: An account of freedom of expression and religion in Asia builds on the global discussion around the intersection between the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of religion. The study focuses on nine countries in Asia – Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam – which each have seen a significant number of violations of freedom of expression on account of religion or religious sensitivities. It includes recommendations ensure the better protection of these rights. This study is was launched in collaboration with the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Global Partners Digital and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).
The rights to freedom of expression and religion are often portrayed as being in opposition with each other. Across Asia people increasingly find themselves under attack for expressing their religious – or non-religious – belief. Although most governments in the region formally support the right to free expression, in practice many minority religious groups or those whose religious beliefs are not that of the majority find themselves under attack, including violently.
The study shows how states legitimise violence against religious minorities and those who raise their voices against injustices. Attacks and violence by non-state actors against dissent are also noted with concern. Key findings of the study refute the common perception that these restrictions are prevalent in Islamic countries only, as these violations are also prevalent in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The study highlights the need to have mutual respect and acceptance to ensure the co-existence of people practising various religions.