Muslim states demand action at UN after ‘Islamaphobic’ Koran burning


By Emma Farge and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

GENEVA (Reuters) -Muslim states including Iran and Pakistan on Tuesday said desecration of the Koran amounted to inciting religious hatred and called for accountability, as the U.N. rights body debated a contentious motion in the wake of a Koran burning in Sweden.

The motion, brought by Pakistan in response to last month’s incident, seeks a report from the U.N. rights chief on the topic and calls on states to review their laws and plug gaps that may “impede the prevention and prosecution of acts and advocacy of religious hatred”.

The debate highlighted rifts in the U.N. Human Rights Council between the OIC, a Muslim grouping, and Western members concerned about the motion’s implications for free speech and challenges posed to long-held practices in rights protection.

An Iraqi immigrant to Sweden burned the Koran outside a Stockholm mosque last month, sparking outrage across the Muslim world and protests in several Pakistani cities.

“We must see this clearly for what it is: incitement to religious hatred, discrimination and attempts to provoke violence,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari told the Geneva council via video, saying such acts occurred under “government sanction and with the sense of impunity”.

His remarks were echoed by ministers from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia with the latter calling it an act of “Islamophobia”. “Stop abusing freedom of expression,” said Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. “Silence means complicity.”

Germany’s ambassador Katharina Stasch called the burning a “dreadful provocation” and condemned it. But she added that “freedom of speech sometimes also means to bear opinions that may seem almost unbearable”. France’s envoy said human rights were about protecting people, not religions and their symbols.

Diplomats said intense negotiations had not led to a break through on Tuesday and expect a vote. Such a vote would almost certainly pass since OIC countries make up 19 members of the 47-member body and also have support from China and others.

U.N. Human Rights Chief Volker Turk told the council that inflammatory acts against Muslims, as well as other religions or minorities, are “offensive, irresponsible and wrong”.

(Reporting by Emma Farge and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Emma Rumney, Editing by William Maclean)

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