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Atheists promote 'International Blasphemy Rights Day' to demand end to blasphemy laws

The atheist group Center For Inquiry (CFI) has stepped up its campaign this week to promote the International Blasphemy Rights Day, which is being observed on Friday, Sept. 30. The group is calling for an end to attacks and arrests of people who criticize ideas and beliefs.

In a statement released on Monday, the group invited people to take part in its "fight for this most fundamental of human rights."

(Wikimedia Commons/Mtaylor848)Anti-Pakistani blasphemy law protest in Centenary Square, Bradford, West Yorkshire in November 2014.

CFI bemoaned that criticism of religion is illegal in many countries around the world and many cases have ended up in arrests, incarceration, beatings and even death sentences.

On its Facebook page, CFI cites several cases in which people have been charged with blasphemy.

One of the cases involved Turkish pianist Fazıl Say who was acquitted of blasphemy charges earlier this month. He was previously sentenced to a suspended 10-month jail term for sharing a tweet that contained lines from a poem written by 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam in 2012. One of the lines stated, "You say its rivers will flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house?"

One of the promotional posters used by CFI contains a photo of famed author Salman Rushdie who was the subject of fatwa calling for his assassination for his controversial book "The Satanic Verses." Although the fatwa issued by Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 was never lifted, it was renewed last February with a bounty of $600,000.

Most recently, the prominent Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was shot three times by a gunman last Monday just before he entered a courthouse. Hattar, 56, was being tried for posting a cartoon that was considered offensive to Islam. The cartoon depicts a bearded man in bed with two women asking God to bring him some wine.

In Pakistan, the Christian advocacy group Release International is appealing to the government to acquit Asia Bibi, who was the first woman in the country to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. Bibi was accused by her co-workers who did not want to drink the water she brought for them, believing that she was unclean for being a Christian.

Release International is also petitioning Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy laws.

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