Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters during a public appearance at an anti-US protest in Beirut's southern suburbs (Reuters)

Hezbollah and the Arab League have revived a 12-year diplomatic battle for the introduction of an international ban on defamation of religion, following a wave of protests across the Arab world in response to the Islamophobic film Innocence of Muslims.

Hassan Nasrallah, Lebanese chief of Islamic militant group Hezbollah, used a speech at an anti-US demonstration in Beirut to stress the need for new international legislation banning such films. He told the audience:

"All our people and governments must put pressure on the international community to issue international and national laws to criminalise insults of the three world religions [Christianity, Islam and Judaism]."

Following Nasrallah's speech, Lebanon requested an emergency Arab League meeting to discuss Innocence of Muslims, which portrays the prophet Mohammed as a philanderer and Muslims as violent thieves.

The Arab League's secretary general, Nabil el-Araby, appeared to share Nasrallah's desire for immediate action, pledging to work with the European Union, African Union and Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to draw up the legislation demanded by Nasrallah.

Araby said: "With respect to the question of the [protests] in the Arabic and Muslim countries, it's a reaction because of what the film presents - it's something that touches the heart of the religion. And to have this reaction could be normal.

"But what I do not like to see is that there will be attacks on foreign embassies or any extra violence."

Long-standing issue

In 2011 the OIC, which encompasses 57 Islamic countries, lost a 12-year battle to criminalise blasphemy, following protracted international discussions.

"There was a long discussion about this at the UN for more than a decade, when some states were trying to push for the defamation of religion to be included as a human rights issue," Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch, told France 24.

The proposal was criticised over fears that it could be used against ethnic minorities and would undermine the UN's basic principle of freedom of expression. The OIC eventually dropped its demands after the Obama administration came up with a commonly agreed text that switched focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.

However Ban Ki-Moon, speaking after the release of Innocence of Muslims, expressed sympathy with the Islamic protesters, saying: "Freedoms of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected, when they are used for common justice, common purpose.

"When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others' values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way.

"Freedom of expression, while it is a fundamental right and privilege, should not be abused by such people, by such a disgraceful and shameful act."

Fresh uproar

Following the release of Innocence of Muslims, Egyptian director Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who used the alias Sam Bacile to produce the movie, was found by police in California and taken in for questioning.

Nakoula has since gone into hiding, although the Egyptian government has issued a warrant for his arrest. Iran has also said it will hunt down the filmmaker.

Meanwhile, Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has published cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed in its latest issue. The cartoons, which depict Mohammed naked and in a wheelchair, are expected to trigger a new wave of protests in Muslim countries.

Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Innocence of Muslims was a "disgraceful and shameful act"