Bilawal condemns Quran desecration as Muslim states demand action at UN

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari virtually addressing a session of an urgent debate held by the Human Rights Council on July 11, 2023. — APP
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari virtually addressing a session of an urgent debate held by the Human Rights Council on July 11, 2023. — APP

  • Bilawal calls upon world to stand against hatred, discrimination, and intolerance.
  • Terms desecration of the Holy Quran as attack on Muslim faith.
  • "Stop abusing freedom of expression," says Indonesian foreign minister. 

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Tuesday condemned the desecration of the Holy Quran in Sweden, saying that it had continued under government sanction and with a sense of impunity as the UN rights body debated a contentious motion. 

Last month, a person — who migrated from Iraq to Sweden — burned pages of the Holy Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm on the first day of Eid ul Adha, prompting outrage in the Muslim world and condemnation from Pope Francis.

In its response, Pakistan brought a motion seeking a report from the UN 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 UN Human Rights Council between the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (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. 

Virtually addressing a session of an urgent debate held by the Human Rights Council on acts of religious hatred, Bilawal called upon the world to stand united against hatred, discrimination, and intolerance, and promote mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance.

“We must see this incitement to hatred, discrimination and attempts to provoke violence. We must join hands in condemning it, we must isolate those who stroke hatred,” he said, adding that these acts were designed to maximise propagating hate. 

FM Bilawal said three months ago the first international day to combat Islamophobia was observed where the first-ever session was held to mark the occasion at the UN General Assembly.

The minister remarked the Holy Quran was a spiritual anchor for two billion Muslims. “It is important to understand the deep hurt that the public and premeditated act of Quran’s desecration causes to Muslims." 

Terming the desecration of the Holy Quran as an attack on the Muslim faith, Bilawal said the call in the draft text presented before this council for prevention and accountability was reasonable and necessary.

The minister said that hate speech and free speech must be segregated as free speech was as indispensable as hate speech was indefensible.

"There is not a single Muslim country on the planet that allows the desecration of the holy text of other religions," he said adding such an act is unthinkable to any Muslim.

“It is forbidden by faith, by culture and by law,” he added.

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 breakthrough on Tuesday and expect a vote. Such a vote would almost certainly pass since OIC countries makeup 19 members of the 47-member body and also have support from China and others.

UN 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".