IHEU Issues Report on Anti-Atheist Discrimination Around the World

Today is Human Rights Day, according to the United Nations. So there’s no better time than now for the International Humanist and Ethical Union to publish “Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious” (PDF):

This report shows that atheists, humanists and other nonreligious people are discriminated against by governments across the world. There are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.

This report isn’t something to ignore. In seven countries, you can be executed for being an atheist (Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan).

Robert Evans at Reuters highlights another disappointing revelation from the report:

In a range of other countries — such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait and Jordan — publication of atheist or humanist views on religion are totally banned or strictly limited under laws prohibiting “blasphemy”.

In many of these countries, and others like Malaysia, citizens have to register as adherents of a small number officially-recognized religions — which normally include no more than Christianity and Judaism as well as Islam.

Speaking of blasphemy, the report includes a section on the sharp rise of blasphemy charges on social media, like the cases of Alexander Aan and Alber Saber:

The trend of prosecuting “blasphemies” shared through social media is most marked in Muslim-majority countries. For example, in addition to the tragic, but all too familiar, wave of blasphemy prosecutions in Pakistan, this year saw prosecutions for allegedly atheist comments on Facebook and Twitter in Bangladesh, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey. In some of these cases, the governments even threatened to prosecute those who commented on, or “liked”, or re-tweeted, the offending comments. In May, the Pakistan government went so far as to block all access to Twitter in the country because of objections to ‘blasphemous’ content”.

Matt Cherry, the editor of the report, makes a strong case that these laws are archaic/outdated and that atheists are often the victims of these charges:

“When 21st century technology collides with medieval blasphemy laws, it seems to be atheists who are getting hurt, as more of them go to prison for sharing their personal beliefs via social media… Across the world the reactionary impulse to punish new ideas, or in some cases the merest expression of disbelief, recurs again and again. We even have a case in Tunisia of a journalist arrested for daring to criticize a proposed blasphemy law!”

I wish I could say the report was short, but it’s 72 pages — most of which include details about human rights violations across the world.

Read it and weep.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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