A report on the human rights of non-religious people warns “the world is divided” on blasphemy and apostasy laws, “with many states still enforcing these laws, and several states actively tightening or introducing new ‘blasphemy’ legislation in the past few years”.
The Freedom of Thought Report by Humanists International, now in its eigth annual edition, examines the legal and human rights situation for “humanists, atheists and the non-religious” around the world.
The 2019 edition celebrates the fact that eight countries have actually abolished ‘blasphemy’ laws in the past five years. But it also warns that 69 countries still retain such laws, and that their penalties and prosecution are hardening in a number of states. States such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are noted as “perennial” blasphemy prosecutors. Despite the well-publicised release of Christian farm-worker Asia Bibi, the ongoing imprisonment of several accused atheists and many others in Pakistan, as well as extrajudicial violence against both humanists and religious minorities related to blasphemy accusations is condemned.
The Report also highlights a deterioration in other countries. Both Brunei and Mauritania have actually increased the penalties for ‘blasphemy’ and ‘apostasy’ in the past two years. Brunei’s new 2019 penal code renders blasphemy and apostasy, as well as other hudud crimes such as adultery and homosexuality, punishable by death. Mauritania introduced a mandatory death sentence for blasphemy and apostasy in April 2018. High-profile ‘blasphemy’ prosecutions are cited as cause for concern in Indonesia, as is the backlash against demonstrators protesting forced hijab in Iran, and prosecutions and intercommunal violence related to Hindutva beliefs demonstrates a deteriorating situation in India. Europe does not entirely escape criticism, despite the overall positive trend in the region, with Italy and Spain singled out for prosecutions against artists and protesters in recent years.
Humanists International president Andrew Copson comments:
“Blasphemy and apostasy laws are an injustice in themselves, but they also lend a false legitimacy to those who commit acts of murder and terrorism in their name. As our report notes, when governments prosecute under these laws it only exacerbates the problems of religious extremism. Repealing these laws as per the human rights treaty obligations that nearly all countries are signed up to must be a priority. It will not solve all the various other forms of discrimination against humanists and other religion or belief minorities that our report documents. But it will begin to de-legitimize the religious extremism that threatens so many societies across so much of the planet.”
Humanists International is the global representative body of the humanist movement, uniting a diversity of non-religious organisations and individuals. We want everyone to live a life of dignity in a world where universal human rights are respected and protected, and where states uphold secularism. We work to build, support and represent the global humanist movement, defending human rights, particularly those of non-religious people, and promoting humanist values world-wide.
The Freedom of Thought Report is an online-first publication. The entire report is available for free at fot.humanists.international, with a page for every country in the world, interpretation, and a link to all the boundary condition data. (Additional new material for 2019 will go live on 13 November at 00:01 GMT.)
You can already download a preview of the Key Countries Edition 2019 (PDF) which contains the Preface by Andrew Copson (President of Humanists International), Foreword by Mohamed Hisham (a victim of non-religious persectuion from Egypt), and Editorial Introduction by Bob Churchill (Editor of the Report), as well as an overview of the data, and a small selection of country chapters.
Repeals since 2015: The countries that have repealed ‘blasphemy’ laws in the past five years are Norway, Iceland, Malta, the Alsace-Moselle region of France, Denmark, Canada, New Zealand and Greece. Meanwhile, legislation is pending in Ireland, following a referendum last year to remove the requirement for a ‘blasphemy’ law from the constitution.
Overall numbers on blasphemy and apostasy laws: With data provided for every country, the Freedom of Thought Report 2019 records that as of this October: “69 countries outlaw ‘blasphemy’ or criticism of religion under similar laws, 6 of those carrying a death penalty. Meanwhile at least 18 countries outlaw ‘apostasy’ (the mere fact, or announcing of the fact, of leaving or changing religion), 12 of those carrying a death penalty.” All the applied boundary conditions, summary score and rankings for every country are available as open data via: fot.humanists.international/data/
Further comment or questions by email to: [email protected] (Bob Churchill, editor of the Report) or call: +44 20 7490 8468 (during office hours, GMT).