Many people who intend to vote in the Presidential election may not be aware that they will also receive a ballot paper asking them to vote on a referendum to amend our blasphemy laws.
It is important that we vote on this issue and, in advance of that, reflect on how, in some countries, committing blasphemy is a serious crime, punishable by a long prison sentence, or even death.
On Monday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court heard the final appeal of a Christian woman who has been on death row for nearly a decade, on the accusation that she insulted Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. The court has reserved its judgement.
Aasiya Noreen — better known as ‘Asia Bibi’ — is a 47-year-old married mother of five who was charged with violating Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law in 2009.
A Punjabi court sentenced her to death by hanging before cheering crowds, in late 2010. “I’ve been locked up, handcuffed, and chained, banished from the world and waiting to die,” says Bibi in her smuggled memoirs.
Whatever way anyone might wish to vote in the blasphemy referendum, it is worth noting that, even as the law now stands, nobody in Ireland can be imprisoned for blasphemy.
While the 2009 Defamation Act gives legal effect to the current constitutional provision, only a fine — albeit a very substantial one — can be imposed by an Irish court.