Kia ora: Mubarak Bala’s Humanist friends have now marked 425 days of his illegal detention. It is also 425 days of pain and anxiety for his wife, Amina, and 425 days that his son, just new-born at the time of Mubarak’s arrest, has not been able to know his father. With no means of communication with his family, these 425 days are very dark. On Day 424 Leo Igwe, Humanists International Board member, wrote “Bala’s life is in peril, not in America or in Europe but in Africa, to be specific in Northern Nigeria. Bala’s life has been in danger not for being black in a dominantly white society, but for being an atheist in a predominantly Muslim section of the country. Bala’s life has been at risk due to institutionalized oppression and persecution of persons who are open about their atheism in Muslim communities. Bala’s case has highlighted the inability of atheists and persons who hold views that are critical of Allah or the prophet of Islam to ‘breathe’ in Muslim majority societies.” Humanists International has posted news that a hearing for Mubarak Bala – originally scheduled to take place at the Abuja High Court on 20 April 2021 – will take place on 14 July 2021. On the one-year anniversary of his arrest, 28 April 2020, a coalition of eighty-nine concerned individuals and organisations, including Humanist NZ, wrote a letter to the Governor of Kano State, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, calling on him to release Bala immediately and unconditionally. Humanists International continues to await a reply. Humanist NZ also wrote to Islamic organisations in New Zealand and we also wait for a reply. Humanists International is very concerned that Mubarak Bala is being targeted solely for the exercise of his right to freedom of belief and freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and international and regional instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory.
It is also distressing to hear of the discovery of the unmarked graves of indigenous children found buried at two compulsory Canadian Christian boarding schools. Their deaths were seemingly unreported and unrecorded. Christian schools, mostly Catholic, were run by religious institutions and funded by the Canadian government during the 19th and 20th Centuries, with the aim of assimilating indigenous youth. Some 150,000 children were forced to attend these schools from the 19th century until 1970. Some were taken from their parents, with police help, while others were “kidnapped” in the streets and taken to the schools. The Canadian government has since discovered that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in these schools. Religious schools, and some state schools, in New Zealand have not been free of similar abuse.
We must always examine our ideology and be open to critique. To do this we need to protect freedom of expression, and we need people who challenge us to examine our long held traditions of thought.
Monday 5 July 6.30 pm until 9.00pm
Asylum Seekers and the Inequality of Immigration NZ Processes
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.
Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St, Wellington
Our speakers for the July meeting are Umesh Perinpanayagam, Advocacy Director with the Asylum Seekers Support Trust, and Dr Julija Sardelic, lecturer in Political Science at Victoria University. Umesh, along with Amnesty International representatives, recently met with the Minister of Immigration to discuss concerns that Immigration NZ are using criminal facilities to detain Asylum Seekers. Julija has a general research interest in citizenship and migration, including minority rights, statelessness and forced migration.
There is a great disparity in the pathway to citizenship in New Zealand between Quota and Convention Refugees.
In January 2017 a paper Aspirational yet precarious: Compliance of New Zealand refugee settlement policy with international human rights obligations by Chris Mahony, Jay Marlowe, Natalie Baird, and Louise Humpage, was published in the International Journal of Migration and Border Studies. The authors consider that “the privileging of Quota refugees over those settling in New Zealand via other pathways is discriminatory.” Refugee communities have advocated for settlement support and family reunification to apply equally to Quota and Convention Refugees. But in 2021 the distinctions continue. The Resettlement Strategy of the New Zealand government applied by Immigration New Zealand is an inequitable system. Amnesty International have recently taken up the issue of asylum seekers in New Zealand with a petition: “People seeking asylum should be welcomed, not imprisoned.” https://www.amnesty.org.nz/ . In May 2021 Amnesty International issued a report, “Take me to a Safe Place’: The imprisonment of asylum seekers in Aotearoa New Zealand” https://www.amnesty.org.nz/report-outlines-clear-human-rights-violations-asylum-seekers-govt . This report highlighted that from 2015-2020, 86 people seeking asylum had been locked in police cells and prisons around the country while they waited for the outcome of their refugee claim, despite the United Nations warning that this imprisonment should not take place. Action Station has a petition “Equal support for Convention Refugees” https://our.actionstation.org.nz/petitions/equal-support-for-convention-refugees-1 created by the Asylum Seeker Equality Project of the Human Rights team, part of the Community Justice Project, a student-led initiative at Victoria University of Wellington’s Law School.
Humanist NZ and NZARH have a special interest in persons with no-belief who seek asylum in NZ from countries where non-belief is persecuted with blasphemy or other charges and in some cases with mandatory death penalties.
· Humanist Radio Programme on Arrow 92.7FM
Tim Wright, a Humanist NZ committee member is hosting a Humanist Radio programme on the first Sunday of the month at 8pm. Upcoming Radio show is 8pm 4th July. It is available as a podcast and repeated on the 3rd Sunday of the month. https://www.arrowfm.co.nz/programmes/show/186/humanism/. Tim will compile a programme of humanist interest with news, views, interviews and music. Your feedback is welcome. Tim maybe contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
· 2021 Humanists International General Assemblies: will be held online on 26 July and 15 August. These Zoom meetings are scheduled for 14.00 BST which in New Zealand time is 1am 27 July and 16 August. Maybe an early morning get-together for us here in New Zealand.
· Hate Speech Legislation: The Government has released for public consultation its proposed legislative changes for the laws governing Hate Speech. Submissions are due on 6 August. Humanist NZ will be discussing these changes and preparing a submission. We will present our thoughts at the August monthly meeting, Monday 2 August, to consider input before sending our submission. Our concern is to ensure that the right to religion and belief, or lack of belief, are treated equally, that freedom of thought, conscience and religion is maintained, and that ideas and institutions may be critiqued without fear of prosecution simply because a group considers disagreement with their ideas or institutions offensive or hurtful.
Humanist NZ concern for Humanists at Risk: A letter outlining our concerns was sent to Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs on the 10 May 2020. No reply has been received.
Tēnā koe Hon Nanaia Mahuta
Raising concerns for Humanists and non-religious people at risk
We are writing to you to express serious concerns for the safety of Humanist and non-religious people at risk around the world.
We ask that the New Zealand government advocates to Pakistan and Nigeria, and on international platforms, on behalf of Mubarak Bala, Amar Jalil, Junaid Hafeez and Professor Ismail and all other non-religious people in unsafe circumstances, or facing persecution because of their Humanist life stance or non-religious beliefs.
Who we are.
The Humanist Society of New Zealand (HSNZ) is a national charity and secular organisation which works in support of Human Rights. We are a member organisation of Humanists International (HI) and in New Zealand are affiliated to the United Nations Association.
We support ethics; giving the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others; the constructive use of rational thought and scientific enquiry; democracy and human rights; personal liberty combined with social responsibility; a secular world based on observation, evaluation, and revision.
We have a particular concern for the rights of non-religious people. Along with our work for the rights of non-religious New Zealanders we also have a care and concern for non-religious people who live in other areas of the world who experience persecution or difficulty in safely and openly living a life not determined by religious precepts
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
HSNZ adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. Fundamental human rights are to be universally protected. In the context of our concern for people who are not religious both in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world, Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are pertinent:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights
Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are further developed in Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This covenant binds all countries that have signed and ratified it. New Zealand signed the covenant in 1968, ratified in 1978, and has been bound by it since 28 March 1979.
Our concern is for non-religious people at risk in many countries. Some of these countries have ratified and are bound by the Covenant but ignore it, while other countries have yet to sign or ratify it.
Paragraph 48 of General Comment 34, adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee in July 2011 states that “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant … “.
The Rabat Plan of Action released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in 2012 develops this further. Paragraph 19 states that “At the national level, blasphemy laws are counter-productive, since they may result in the de facto censure of all inter-religious/belief and intra-religious/belief dialogue, debate, and also criticism, most of which could be constructive, healthy and needed and concludes that “States that have blasphemy laws should repeal these as such laws have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief and healthy dialogue and debate about religion.”
Many countries have no blasphemy laws and others have moved to abolish them. Countries abolishing blasphemy laws include France in 1881 (except for the Alsace-Moselle region which was part of Germany at the time), Sweden in 1970, Australia in 1995 (Federal level only), Norway with Acts in 2009 and 2015, the Netherlands in 2014, Iceland in 2015, Malta in 2016, France (Alsace-Moselle region) in 2016, Denmark in 2017, Canada in 2018, New Zealand and Greece in 2019, Ireland in 2020, and Scotland in 2021.
Blasphemy laws are archaic and barbaric laws originally created in the courts by judges in the 16th and 17th centuries in an attempt to protect the central tenants of the Church of England and later copied in other European and other countries. Replacing heresy laws and burning at the stake, supposed blasphemy crimes were punished with hanging and the cutting out of tongues. Blasphemy laws are designed to protect institutions but make victims of people. They are not and cannot be used as laws designed to prohibit hate speech.
In the limited number of countries where blasphemy laws remain they are used by politicians or institutions such as the military to suppress criticism, by citizens to eliminate rivals in the market place, by religious institutions to suppress all valid discussion and criticism, and are often used by majority religions to suppress minority religions. Charges of blasphemy are often false or based on hearsay without independent corroboration and are notoriously hard to defend. Eight countries have the death penalty for blasphemy. Some countries, such as Pakistan, have modified laws originally intended to maintain good relations between different religions and beliefs, to make these well-intentioned laws into blasphemy laws, and have introduced the death penalty for very minor transgressions.
Our concerns for Humanists at Risk
As non-religious New Zealanders, we are fortunate in our country, to live our lives openly and safely. Our good fortune gives an imperative that we speak up for people with secular, atheist and humanist values who experience discrimination or persecution in other countries.
In 2018, Humanists International held their General Assembly in New Zealand and HSNZ at the invitation of the honourable Grant Robertson held an Opening Parliamentary Welcome where Dr Leo Igwe, the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Society addressed us on “Being Non-Religious in Africa — Why Secular Countries Must Help”.
Dr Igwe said:
“Being known as a Humanist or an atheist can mean social ostracisation at best, at worst death, in Africa. Secular liberal countries must do more for them…. It is important to state that Humanists and freethinkers are not asking for special treatment. Non-religious people want to live in a society that ensures equality, justice, freedom, and human rights for all individuals despite the religious belief or lack of it. They desire to live their lives free from fear and persecution like other human beings. Given this situation, Humanists everywhere are looking to countries for help in the realisation of this aspiration. With the growing population of non-religious persons worldwide, many countries are in a position to defend all Humanists at Risk. Countries should use their positions as member states of the Commonwealth, of the UN and other regional and international bodies to help end the persecution and discrimination against non-religious people across the world.”
In 2017, in a keynote address at the Humanists International General Assembly, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, spoke of the extreme nature of some of the violence visited upon atheists and Humanists. During this speech, he said:
“There is, I think, thanks to the reports that you publish, growing awareness of the plight of Humanists around the world. So, you find the UN supporting an increasing focus on Humanists. I also want to stress that in my observations, Humanists – when they are attacked – they are attacked far more viciously and brutally than I think in other cases. It’s partly because there is this conception that Humanists require no protection. So, this is one dimension that I’m very concerned about: the brutality with which social hostilities are visited upon Humanists the world over. You will not find this kind of viciousness in attacks on other communities. Of course, the Baha’i and Ahmadis face very serious violations, but I think if you look at specific cases the brutality with which Humanists and atheists are attacked exceeds other forms of viciousness that I have come across.”
In December 2020 at the launch of the ninth edition of the Humanists International Freedom of Thought Report Dr Ahmed Shaheed again said: “Humanists are the invisible people of the present 21st century. While almost everybody is persecuted when they are in a minority, the attacks on Humanists are particularly violent. They are exposed to harm in the communities where they live, and of course, for many of them, the family is not a safe place. The pandemic, therefore, intensifies that.”
In Pakistan, it is dangerous for fellow Humanists to speak up in defence of friends who find themselves accused of blasphemy and face charges from the Pakistan Penal code which include the death penalty. Lawyers, judges, and politicians have been murdered for supporting people charged with blasphemy.
At present we have serious concerns for several people who are not religious in Pakistan and Nigeria. We want to raise these specific cases with you in the hope that the New Zealand Government can advocate on their behalf.
Specific Humanist cases of concern
HSNZ has serious concerns for the following persons who hold Humanist beliefs.
Mubarak Bala, President Humanist Society of Nigeria Mubarak has been held in detention with no charge for almost a year. Mubarak is accused of blasphemous posts of Mohammad on social media. The Nigerian High Court has ordered his release but Mubarak is still detained with no contact allowed with his lawyers or with his wife and young son (now one year of age), or friends. Mubarak has received death threats while held in prison. HSNZ previously wrote to the Hon Winston Peters, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the 29th April 2020 expressing concern for Mubarak.
Amar Jalil, Writer and columnist receiving death threats
Amar Jalil, 84 years of age, is an eminent English and Sindhi writer based in Karachi. He writes on “extrajudicial enforced disappearances” and blatant violations of human rights in his short stories and newspaper columns. Amar’s humanistic stance and viewpoint has antagonized extreme right-wing mullahs backed by the establishment and Amar is accused of blasphemy. He is a thought provoking and staunch ambassador of the Indian Subcontinent’s syncretic values and humanism. The Progressive Writers Association of Pakistan have issued a press release supporting Amar Jalil. The press release is attached to this email. Below is a link to an article published 7th April 2021 in The Express Tribune, a Pakistani daily English-language newspaper.
Junaid Hafeez, University lecturer convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death
Junaid Hafeez is a Pakistani university lecturer convicted of blasphemy under Pakistan’s broad blasphemy laws and sentenced to death. Arrested in 2013, Hafeez was accused of making derogatory comments about Mohammed on social media. Held in solitary confinement since 2014, his trial has been repeatedly delayed. His first lawyer, Rashid Rehman, was murdered. In December 2019, Junaid was convicted and sentenced to death by a Pakistani court.
Professor Ismail, Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience
Professor Ismail is the father of Gulalai Ismail, an internationally recognised human rights campaigner and founder of Aware Girls, an education organisation that includes Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai in its alumni. Gulalai Ismail is a past board member of Humanists International and was recently appointed Humanists International Ambassador. Gulalai visited New Zealand in 2018. In 2019 she appeared before the New Zealand Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade Select committee with the HSNZ submission on the Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill and outlined how people in countries such as Pakistan may be falsely accused of terrorism for political or other reasons. Professor Ismail and his wife have been accused using trumped-up charges under Pakistan’s Anti-terrorism Laws because of the work of his daughter Gulalai Ismail. Professor Ismail is currently on bail from the Peshawar Central Jail, however, he remains at risk of a lengthy prison sentence. Below is a link to an article detailing the harassment of Professor Ismail.
Other people of concern to us are Ahmadreza Djalal (Swedish-Iranian held in Iran), Asad Noor (Bangladesh), Raif Badawi (Saudi Arabia), Ashraf Fayadh (Palestinian poet in Saudi Arabia), Ahmad Al-Shamri (Saudi Arabia), and Soheil Arabi (Iran)
How the New Zealand government can support these human rights advocates
We ask that the New Zealand government expresses to Pakistan and Nigeria and on international platforms that the above people, Mubarak Bala, Amar Jalil, Junaid Hafeez and Professor Ismail and all other persons of non-belief or with a Humanist life stance living in unsafe circumstances are accorded safety and are able to live with their families openly and without fear.
We would like to meet with you at a suitable time where we can discuss these concerns in more detail
Humanist Society of New Zealand
From Classical Greece:
Greek philosopher, Epicurus who died in 341 BC, wrote “Either God wants to abolish evil and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked.”
Epicurus thought that personal happiness was the essential good and best derived from a simple life marked by friendship, kindness and equality. And he added ‘good food’ – we can all agree with that!! His theory of social justice involved a social contract to not harm others and to be protected from harm ourselves. Laws were only just if directed to this end. He taught as well that people must behave ethically not for fear of ‘godly punishment’ but because it ensured the most practical benefits of living together in an orderly and peaceful society. Epicurus espoused these thoughts almost 2,400 years ago. Societies and governments are still working on it.