GENEVA - Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the European Office of the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Zamir Akram has said that the freedom of expression does not provide a license to insult the religious beliefs of other people.

He was speaking in his capacity as the Coordinator of the OIC countries on Human Rights Issues during a meeting with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the UN’s Geneva office.  The envoy made these remarks in response to the recent Western media attacks on Islam and the Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).  Ambassador Akram stressed that the right of free speech under the UN conventions was subject to limitations, specifically to prevent any incitement to violence - which had clearly happened in the case of the provocative publications of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.   He said that certain Western countries pursued clear double standards since their own laws criminalised any anti-Semitism or anti-Jewish statements or denial of the holocaust on the grounds that this constituted “hate speech”.

But expression of Islamophobia and insults to Islam and Muslims was being defended by the same countries as expression of “free speech”, he said.  

Such double standards and hypocrisy, Ambassador Akram said, were unacceptable, adding, that it was in the interest of these countries which have large Muslim minorities, to end such discrimination against Muslims.

Referring to the numerous recent attacks against Muslims in various European countries as well as the large anti-Muslim demonstrations there, Ambassador Akram said that this was a clear manifestation of Islamophobia which amounted to a new form of racial profiling and discrimination of the type that had led to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

The Ambassador emphasised that Islam was a religion of peace and taught respect for all faiths and that actions of a few fanatics should not be used to defame Islam or its revered personalities.  

Muslims, therefore, were fully justified to demand respect for their faith and viewed attacks on Islam as deliberate attempts to provoke Muslims and abuse of free speech, he added.