Dutch parliament rejects scrapping blasphemy law

The Dutch parliament rejected a call to scrap a 1930s blasphemy law on Tuesday after the murder of a filmmaker critical of Islam sparked a heated debate about freedom of speech.

This month’s murder of Theo van Gogh, who branded Islamic clerics women-haters and ridiculed the prophet of Islam, prompted calls for a review of a 1932 blasphemy law after a wave of attacks on Dutch mosques, churches and religious schools.

The blasphemy law, which threatens up to 3 months in jail or a fine, last prompted a prosecution more than 40 years ago. But Van Gogh’s death revived a public debate about freedom of speech, intolerance and respect for religious beliefs.

A majority of the lower house of parliament in The Hague voted against proposals by junior coalition party D66 to scrap the law with former supporters for a law change saying it was too soon after Van Gogh’s death to push through a change. “It was defeated at this time but many left-wing parties said they supported it and they thought it was not the time to take this action,” D66 spokesman Andor Admiraal said.

The vote revealed divisions within Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s three-way government between his Christian Democrats (CDA), the VVD free-market liberals and centrist D66 party, over whether to scrap the law or beef it up. The CDA voted against abolishing the law while the VVD supported D66. The main opposition Labour party (PvdA) and the Greens voted against scrapping the law but called for a complete review of basic rights, including freedom of speech. Theo van Gogh was stabbed and shot on his way to work in Amsterdam three weeks ago. A 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan man has been charged with the murder.