Ireland votes to lift blasphemy ban

A man looks at the results of the blasphemy referendum with counties highlighted in green having voted to pass the updated law in Dublin, Ireland, October 27, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 October 2018

Ireland votes to lift blasphemy ban

  • The 1937 blasphemy provision makes “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion” punishable by up to 25,000 euros ($28,500)

DUBLIN: Ireland has voted to lift a rarely enforced constitutional ban on blasphemy in the latest secular reform for the once staunchly Catholic country, referendum results showed on Saturday.
The ban was overturned with 65 percent of voters in favor, following recent votes to allow abortion and same-sex marriage.
“It has always been my view that there is no room for a provision such as this in our constitution. Ireland is rightly proud of our reputation as a modern, liberal society,” Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said.
The referendum coincided with a presidential election which saw incumbent Michael D. Higgins win a landslide second term — securing a 56-percent vote share in a race of six candidates.
The 1937 blasphemy provision makes “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion” punishable by up to 25,000 euros ($28,500).
In practice the legislation is largely obsolete and there have been no successful prosecutions since the Irish state was established.
But it was heavily criticized in 2015 when police were forced to investigate British TV personality Stephen Fry for branding God “stupid” during an interview.
Politicians had long made it known that they intended to remove the provision and there have been claims the law gives support to more oppressive regimes on the global stage.
“The constitutional provision and Irish law on blasphemy gives comfort to countries where they have extremely draconian laws which are used to harass, to intimidate, to imprison, to subject people to violence,” Amnesty Ireland director Colm O’Gorman told AFP in an interview in the run-up to the referendum.

When the results were announced on Saturday night only a handful of spectators were there to witness it — a stark contrast to May’s referendum, which saw vibrant celebrations when the majority backed a campaign to end a ban on abortion.
Many saw that poll, which enjoyed a 64 percent turnout, as an indication of the Catholic Church’s waning grip on Irish life.
Friday’s vote saw a turnout of just 44 percent.
The re-election of Higgins, a 77-year-old former parliamentary politician, academic and poet, was presented as a foregone conclusion for much of the campaign.
Higgins told a crowd gathered at Dublin Castle for the announcement: “I will be a president for all the people — for those who voted for me and those who did not.”
Among his five challengers, businessman Peter Casey had a surprise surge in popularity, securing 23 percent of the vote.
Casey courted controversy in his campaign for comments over the Irish traveler community, drawing comparisons in the Irish media to US President Donald Trump.


Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

Updated 15 November 2019

Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

  • The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s tourists
  • Apsara authority plans to end the elephant rides by 2020
PHNOM PENH: Cambodia will ban all elephant rides at the country’s famed Angkor temple park by early next year, an official said Friday, a rare win for conservationists who have long decried the popular practice as cruel.
The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s foreign tourists — which topped six million in 2018 — and many opt for elephants rides around the ancient temples.
But these rides “will end by the start of 2020,” said Long Kosal, a spokesman with the Apsara Authority, which manages the park.
“Using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore,” he told AFP, adding that some of the animals were “already old.”
So far, five of the 14 working elephants have been transferred to a community forest about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the temples.
“They will live out their natural lives there,” Kosal said.
The company that owns the elephants will continue to look after them, he added.
Cambodia has long come under fire from animal rights groups for ubiquitous elephant rides on offer for tourists, also seen in neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
The elephants are broken in during training and rights groups have accused handlers of overworking them.
In 2016, a female elephant died by the roadside after carrying tourists around the Angkor Wat temple complex in severely hot weather.
The animal had been working for around 45 minutes before she collapsed.