Jillian C. York

As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2012 and discussing where we are in the fight for free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy. Click here to read other blog posts in this series.

As a recent Pew Forum study reveals, blasphemy laws are widespread, with laws penalizing blasphemy, apostasy, or defamation of religion (including religious “hate speech”) present in 94 countries. While in most countries, laws criminalizing certain types of speech apply to the Internet, some countries have recently crafted specific laws to ban or criminalize online expressions of blasphemy. Still others have cracked down on online speech using existing laws. Here’s a roundup of some of the worst offenders in 2012:

Saudi Arabia

It should come as no surprise that ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia is strict on speech, but this year the country outdid itself when it extradited Hamza Kashgari, a young journalist who had penned an earnest letter to the Muslim prophet on Twitter, from Malaysia. A few months later, the country began mulling over new laws to “combat the criticism of the basic tenets of Islamic sharia” online.


In nearby Kuwait, the Information Minister announced in May plans to pass new laws regulating the use of social networking sites amidst growing tensions between the country’s Shi’a majority and Sunni minority. The proposal came after writer Mohammad al-Mulaifi was detained for “insulting the Muslim Shi’ite majority” on Twitter.



In March, a Bangladesh court blocked access to five Facebook pages deemed to be blasphemous to Islam, while also demanding that content hosts and creators be brought to justice over “uploading indecent materials.” The court order also stated, chillingly, a desire to find ways of easily facilitating future blockages of websites and pages.

Bangladesh was also among several countries that blocked access to the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video on YouTube.


In Tunisia, where activists have fought hard to keep the Internet open, two young men were arrested in April for posting cartoons of the Muslim prophet and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. One is serving his sentence, while the other fled to Europe.


The embattled European country arrested a Facebook user for blasphemy in October after he created a page satirizing a famous Greek Orthodox monk, a worrying development in a country where the Internet has otherwise been traditionally free.

Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, Singapore, Pakistan

Along with Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, these countries blocked access (either by issuing a court order to Google or by force) to the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video on YouTube, with some blocking YouTube altogether.


A dishonorable mention goes to YouTube, which blocked access to the controversial ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video in Egypt and Libya without government prompting. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, a group based in Egypt, condemned YouTube’s decision.