Apostasy is the formal defection, abandonment, disaffiliation, revolt, or renunciation of religion. It is defined in a broader context as embracing an opinion contrary to a previous belief. Blasphemy is the verbal denial of religion or the Supreme Being; it can be viewed as the lesser version of apostasy. Acts of apostasy include denouncing religion and converting to another religion while acts of blasphemy include talking ill of religion or engaging in actions that contradict religious teachings. Blasphemy and apostasy may sound like artifacts of history, but in several countries around the world, they are capital offenses. As of 2016, a quarter of the world's countries had anti-apostasy and anti-blasphemy laws. One in ten nations (13%) had policies and laws penalizing the offenses ranging from fines, infliction of pain, and in some instances, death.
Countries Where Apostasy Is Illegal
Apostasy laws are the least popular worldwide. They are found in only 23 countries spread across three regions. By far, most states with anti-apostasy laws are in North Africa and the Middle East. About 14% of countries are in the Asia-pacific region. Only four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have anti-apostasy laws while no state in the Americas or Europe enforce similar laws. Thirteen countries have the death penalty for apostasy, namely Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Mauritania, Maldives, Pakistan, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Other countries have exercised different forms of punishment. For example, in the Maldives, all citizens must be Muslims, and those who convert to other religions lose their citizenship. Citizens of Morocco can now enjoy the freedom of religion after the anti-apostasy laws were withdrawn in 2017.
Countries Where Blasphemy Is Illegal
Laws restricting blasphemy are common in North Africa (70%) and the Middle East (90%). The laws are also found in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Asia-pacific region, European countries (16%), and the Americas (29%). In North Africa and the Middle East, blasphemy has survived generations of social and political changes. In Pakistan, for example, blasphemy laws trace their origin to the colonial past when the British colonial rulers introduced retributions for slandering religious beliefs. The laws remained in effect even after independence and have since become more severe. In 2014, two Burmese men and a New Zealander were convicted to two and half years in prison for depicting Buddha using headphones to promote their new bar. In the Bahamas, the sale or publication of blasphemous materials earns a two-year prison sentence. There are no federal blasphemy laws in the United States, but some US states including Michigan and Massachusetts have anti-blasphemy laws on the books although they are overshadowed by freedom of religion.