On 10 March we wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, The Honourable Winston Peters, raising our concerns for Professor Mahmoud Jama Ahmed, who was charged and sentenced for blasphemy in Somalia last year. He was pardoned on 20 January. However, on 28 February a prominent Imam Adam Sunnah has publicly called for his death.

Read the full text of our letter below

The Honourable Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Dear Minister

The Humanist Society of New Zealand (HSNZ), a member of Humanist International, an international human rights organisation, is gravely concerned about the safety of Professor Mahmoud Jama Ahmed who teaches humanities and social science at the University of Hargeisa, Somalia. He has received public death threats from a prominent Iman and harassment on charges of blasphemy and apostasy.

In February 2019 Professor Mahmoud published a post on his personal Facebook page which questioned whether praying to God for water was a useful strategy to overcome the drought that affects Somalia every year, suggesting instead that Somali authorities should have addressed the problem with a more scientific approach. This post went viral and was interpreted as blasphemy. On 30 April 2019, Professor Mahmoud was charged and sentenced for blasphemy. On 20 January 2020, he received a presidential pardon. Recently, however, on 28 February 2020, a prominent Imam Adam Sunnah has publicly called for his death.

Professor Mahmoud remains in great danger.

In March 2019, HSNZ was proud that our Government repealed New Zealand’s archaic Blasphemy Law. People must not be condemned for expressing an idea. Ideas must always be able to be discussed in a rational and informed manner. Blasphemy laws are not and never have been hate speech laws.

Attached is a briefing document containing up-to-date information about Professor Mahmoud’s case.

We ask that the Government of New Zealand intercede with the Somalian Government or take whatever possible action to urgently ensure Professor Mahmoud’s safety.

Sincere regards

Gaylene Middleton
Humanist Society of New Zealand

Read the response from Rt Hon Winston Peters, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Dear Gaylene Middleton

Thank you for your email of 10 March 2020.

Reports of death threats against Professor Mahmoud Jama Ahmed are concerning. New Zealand advocates for the protection and promotion of human rights internationally. We prioritise active engagement on freedom of expression, including civil society participation.

The New Zealand Government’s policy is to raise concerns directly with the countries involved and engage in regional and multilateral political advocacy. We will continue to monitor the situation in Somalia and register our concerns through the appropriate channels.

Yours sincerely

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

Rt Hon Winston Peters l  Deputy Prime Minister | Leader New Zealand First | Minister of Foreign Affairs  l  Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control | Minister for State Owned Enterprises | Minister for Racing | 7.4 Executive Wing, Parliament Buildings, Wellington | www.beehive.govt.nz