Global humanists persecuted and face severe discrimination warns new report

December 5, 2017

A new digital version of the report with interactive maps can be viewed online

The 2017 Freedom of Thought Report highlights seven countries that have actively persecuted non-religious people this year.

The report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), contributed to by Humanist Society Scotland, emphasises the murders of humanists and atheists in Pakistan, Maldives and India in the past 12 months. In Malaysia, a backlash against atheists was escalated to government levels, when officials threatened to “hunt down” apostates.

An anti-atheist campaign in Pakistan saw several activists ‘disappeared’ or prosecuted for alleged “blasphemy”, with two men facing a possible death sentence. “Apostasy” cases in Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and Sudan are highlighted as part of the wider threat to those who speak out as “non-religious” or challenge religious power structures, in particular in Islamic countries where “apostasy” is often reviled. The report documents 12 countries where leaving or changing religion by “apostasy” is punishable by death.

Even these incidents are only “the most noticeable moving parts on the extensive machine of anti-non-religious discrimination” globally, according to the report. In total 55 countries are listed as having one or more elements of “severe discrimination”. Such elements include for example imprisonable “blasphemy” laws, fundamentalist proselytization in state-run schools, the derivation of state law from religious doctrine, and control over family and personal status law by religious courts.

The report warns that the increasing number of anti-atheist murders and other incidents of persecution should not be thought of as disconnected events, but as part of “a pattern of regression on a global scale”. While there is much global attention on rising populism and authoritarianism, the Freedom of Thought Report warns that, “The rhetorical opposition and very real threats to democratic norms extends far beyond ‘fake news’ and Twitter bots… Any remaining notion that secularism and human rights must inevitably establish themselves… must now be cast aside as deeply complacent and apathetic.”

Commenting on the report released today, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland, Gordon MacRae, said:

Gordon MacRae

This report reveals a daming global situation where athiests, humanists and others are attacked and in some intances killed for their beliefs. Unfortunately in the worst places highlighted by the report much of the persecution of these individuals is state sanctioned.

We saw earlier in the year the witch-hunt of atheists in Malaysia by the Government and police service who deemed them “heretical” in in need of “re-education” just because individuals had met up to discuss their views.

Sadly some of the states around the world that actively persecute people for “apostasy” and “blasphemy” point to places like Scotland, where we still have blasphemy laws on the books, as legitimising their own use of such outdated and unfair laws. There can be no continued justification for retaining these laws in Scotland when many other European nations have consigned them to the history books.

Gordon MacRae, Humanist Society Scotland

Humanist Society Scotland has campaigned to remove Scotland’s Blasphemy law including supporting a petition at the Scottish parliament to highlight the issue of it being used as an excuse by other states to actively persecute Humanists. Other European countries have recently scrapped similar laws, including England and Wales in 2008, Iceland and Norway in 2015, Malta in 2016 and Denmark earlier this year. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice has however ruled out scrapping the law in correspondence.

You can support the campaign to scrap Scotland’s Blasphemy laws by signing our petition:

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