Manama: Arab countries are working on a draft law that bans the defamation of religions and empowers them to take abusers to court even if they are not residents.

The draft, presented by Qatar, is being reviewed by delegates from several Arab countries at the Arab League.

Under its provisions, all forms of defamation, derision or denigration of religions and prophets will be considered crimes.

“The main feature of the draft is that it gives every state the right to put on trial those who abuse and hold in contempt religions even if they are outside the country,” Ebrahim Mousa Al Hitmi, the Qatari justice ministry assistant undersecretary for legal affairs, said, local Arabic daily Al Arab reported on Wednesday.

The official insisted that the draft law does not clash with freedom of expression.

“The law does not interfere in any way with the freedom of opinion and expression which is well protected and guaranteed. All penal laws in Arab countries criminalise defamation of religions but there are no specific sanctions when an abuser is outside the country. Therefore, the main goal of this law is to deter all forms of defamation of religions and give each country that ratifies it the right to file lawsuits against those who offend religions, even if they are not residents,” he said.

The official attributed the Qatari initiative to a drive to counter relentless campaigns targeting religions.

The draft will be taken up by the Arab justice ministers when they convene.