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The UN`s Concept Of Defamation Of Religion Vs Press And Religious Freedom In Cameroon

Cameroon is one of those countries in Africa with an admirable level of freedom of worship. Individuals of different religious inclinations interact freely, enjoying a thriving  atmosphere of religious tolerance. Churches and mosques constructed close to each other are typical in Cameroon’s large cities. The country is comprised of 40 percent Christians, 40 percent animists and 20 percent Muslims. Religion is an integral part of daily life, as Cameroonians attach a lot of importance to spirituality. There is no official state religion but Christianity and Islam are the two main religions given pride of place during state events. 
 Since 1999, the Organization of Islamic Nations (57 nations), has been endorsing the idea that nations are obliged to implement laws against the defamation of religion. The text of the resolution castigates what it refers to as negative stereotyping of religions and religious figures. It also kicks against the use of print, electronic media and the Internet to criticize religious symbols and venerated people. On March 25, 2010, the United Nations Human Rights’ Council in Geneva passed a non- binding resolution targeting “Defamation of Religions,”’ with 20 votes in favour, 17 against and 8 abstentions. Cameroon is counted amongst the 8 countries that preferred not to have a say on the issue. Defamation of religion as a Human Rights concept has been subject to a lot of scrutiny and criticism over the years. These criticisms range from its definition to its applicability as an authentic human right.

In my opinion, and in the Cameroonian context, a law on defamation of religion would tamper with the admirable atmosphere of religious tolerance that currently reigns in Cameroon, and could usher in a legalized repression of minority religions.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and an integral part of religious tolerance. Open and frank talks about religion could serve as a check of the excesses of religious institutions. A law would help to weaken the already skeletal form of press freedom in Cameroon. Christians, Muslims and animists should be able to voice their religious convictions without the interference of the state. Journalists should also be able to broadcast or publish facts about all religions, with no bias. The value of religious institutions as for a measure of morality in society would be better protected if incidents of moral decadence within the system are exposed and castigated rather than cajoled in the name of shunning religious criticism.

D.M. Murdurk, an independent scholar of comparative religion and mythology, in an article titled “Beware of Defamation of Religion” says “religion is not human, and as such, possesses no human rights that can be protected by the Human Rights Council. Defamation in its very definition involves a person and not an abstract concept like religion.”

The marginalization of Pentecostals by adherents of mainline churches and the Cameroonian society in general, would be a local example of defamation of religion.  Catholicism and Protestantism are the major Christian religions in the country, Catholics and Protestants prefer to liaise with Muslims during ecumenical celebrations than with Pentecostals.

This form of Christianity, whose evangelistic activities were banned by the government of Cameroon in the 1970s, only to resurface in the 1980s, is currently  making strides, especially in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon.  A good number of churches have been planted on almost every street corner of the country’s major cities.Most of them come from neighboring Nigeria and operate without authorization from the government. The state constitution demands that all religious bodies be registered and granted authorization by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization.

Women are often the prime victims when issues related to religious persecution become evident. In Cameroon, women are usually forced to accept the tradition of their husbands and are often highly victimized for accepting any other religion.

All this not withstanding, Cameroon can still be considered as a country with a certain degree of religious tolerance. A law against defamation of religion might instead provoke religious unrest in the country.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

Your Excellent Article!

Dear Shekina,

Your op-ed article is excellent; professional, strong, clear and engaging. I congratulate you, not only for your writing, but for all that you are doing and will do, with persuasive, informative work like this, to make the world a better place.
With appreciation and respect,

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby, World Pulse Mentor

Leina's picture

Dear Sarah,

Dear Sarah,
Thank you so much for reading and reacting to this.I feel honoured to have this reaction from you and it spurs me to work even harder.Thank you so much.
With gratitude and more respect

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

Your Work

You are so welcome! Carry on, Brave Woman!

Usha RS's picture

Great job!

A finely written piece, dear Shekina. My thoughts have been with you, this week, as you are off on your adventure in South Africa, learning to make documentaries.
Sending you much love and blessings,
Usha xx

Let your light shine!

Leina's picture

Dear Usha,

Dear Usha,
Thanks for always being there.I am back in Cameroon with more knowledge than I ever thought I could gather for a week.I am ready to begin shooting mind blowing documentaries.
So much Love

Usha RS's picture

MInd blowing documentaries

I can't wait to see your first one! I know it will be wonderful and inspiring. You are a change maker.
Usha. xx

Let your light shine!

Lisa Cox's picture

Nice work

Hello - I really enjoyed reading your piece - nice work! I did not know much about this topic and you have inspired me to learn more. I hope you keep writing about this area of the law - I look forward to reading more from you!

Leina's picture

Dear Lisa,

Dear Lisa,
I am so thankful you found this worth reading.I am encouraged,I promise to keep writing.Thanks for the encouragement.
Leina

mrbeckbeck's picture

Interesting...

Hello there,

I thought this was a very interesting topic, but I'm curious to know more about your opinion of the situation, as that didn't come through as clearly to me here. I know you said that the resolution could hinder the openness you have in Cameroon, but I'd like to know more about your thoughts...

How could the UN resolution help or hinder women who are caught in their husband's religion without a say of their own? Are there other ways to help these women? What do you think about the churches that set up shop without being officially recognized by the government?

Overall I thought this was a very well written and structured piece, and I look forward to more of your writing--and of course, the documentaries you're working on!

Best,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

Leina's picture

Thank you Mr Beck

Hello Mr Beck,
Thank you for taking interest in this and for making me think more constructively.I am very grateful for the push. I think a law on "defamation of religion" will fertilize the culture of silence which is currently responsible for the repression of women’s rights world wide. Apart from their local cultures, women`s voices will be suppressed by a stronger force which is an international law.For example when people hide behind the African Traditional religion or Islam to indulge in noxious practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, Widowhood rituals and even wife battering, anyone who dares to kick against them will be guilty of "defaming" the concerned religion,thereby breaking an international law. In my opinion, religion has so far played the most crucial role in the relegation of women world wide. It is the principal reason for which women in all parts of the world are considered as sub-humans. I think Gender Based Violence is a brain child of religion. However, religion if rightly used could equally be a panacea to this plague. When humans attach more importance to a set of man made laws than God’s principal law, which in all religions is love, religion tends to be man’s way of using God instead of man’s way of connecting to God. Such a law will be a strong enemy to every gender activist because anyone who dares to say women and men are equal will be standing against the teachings of a particular religion and therefore be guilty of breaking this law.
With regards to how such a law will affect women viz-a viz their husband’s religion, it will aggravate the absence of women’s right to choose which religion to belong to because besides the wrath of their husbands and family-in-laws, they will have to answer to the law for talking against a particular religion .Such a resolution will therefore not be of help to the current global efforts to crack down on violence against women.
I see the multiplication of churches in Cameroon as a pointer to the fact that the stringent walls of religion are being broken and people are free to express their different ways of viewing God by breaking away from religious bodies which do not conform to their views . The fact that government allows such churches to operate even without authorization means their presence have so far not been of any considerable danger to the population. In my research I realized most of these churches had applied for permission to operate but the government for some unknown reason has been taking too long to reply .As long as 10 years in some cases.
Thank you for taking interest.
Shekina

mrbeckbeck's picture

Thank you, helpful!

Hi Shekina,

I really appreciate you taking the time to reply to my questions! I have a much more clear picture of your opinions now... and I see what you mean about using a law against "defamation of religion" to defend traditional practices that are so harmful to women.

You make a really interesting point that religion has been used many times around the world to make a case for inequality, but at the same time, the essence of all religions is simply LOVE. It's a complicated situation, that is for sure.

Thank you again for the follow up and clarification!
Best,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

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