Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.), PO Box 3372, Wellington, New Zealand – Registered Charity No. CC36074

The Humanist Society of New Zealand is a Member Organisation of the International Humanist and Ethical Union

Humanist Newsletter June 2020

Kia ora: The past month has been like no other. Watching how our NZ lockdown was proceeding, with shutting down Covid-19 cases, and also watching the rest of the world including countries where we have friends. The future will be different, with many lives thrown into turmoil. Humanists International has the following reflection as they announced the cancellation of the Miami 2020 Humanist Congress and General Assembly:

The world is in the grip of a global pandemic, the likes of which we have not seen for a century.

Governments around the world have introduced a policy of ‘distancing’ to reduce the risk of infection. It is right that we must remain physically distanced from each other, but at the same time it is vital that we use this opportunity to strengthen the bonds of human solidarity that unite us, that we move closer together.

The Covid-19 pandemic is an emergency which has directly killed hundreds of thousands, and the impact of which on the economy has wreaked havoc disproportionately in the lives of those least able to bear it. It cannot help but make us reflect on the interconnected nature of our global society, and appreciate the interconnected nature of our communities and our economies. This reflection, however valuable, cannot ever undo the misery that this virus has caused.

More than ever, we need each other. We need humanism.

Through good leadership, guided by science and empathy, and our global solidarity we will overcome this current crisis. By working together, and learning together, we will begin to contain this virus and to ameliorate the damage it is doing.

The world, however, will never be the same.

Populists and nationalists lie in wait to exploit this crisis, as they have always done, for their own narrow political ends. For some this crisis is an opportunity to reassess capitalism, for others it highlights a crisis of democracy. Many will try to twist this tragedy to fit the same xenophobic and racist messages which they have always spread.

When we can, we will start to build up the engines of trade and commerce. Our world will become busier again. However, as we rebuild our economies, it will be for us to ensure that we build them back better than they were before. With human wellbeing at their core.

It will be for us to put humanism at the heart of this response

This year, in order to keep each other safe, and not endanger the lives of others, we cannot meet as planned in Miami. The 2020 World Humanist Congress will not be taking place. We will instead be holding an alternative General Assembly later in 2020. This news will not surprise you, but we are all sad to have to confirm it.

On Saturday, August 8th, the American Humanist Association will host a day-long virtual conference, Distant but Together: A Virtual Celebration of Humanism. The free event will bring together terrific humanist speakers who will explore the values and principles that undergird our community. To register and get more information, visit

Return to Thistle Inn Meeting

Monthly meeting: Monday 8 June 6.30 pm until 9.00pm

The Secularisation of Turkey: Westernisation and Laicisation from the Ottoman Empire to a secular republic in Turkey

Peter Bacos, a Wellington Humanist NZ member has prepared this talk for our June meeting. The talk is divided into three parts. Peter will go straight to the ‘meat in the sandwich’ and discuss the reforms Ataturk introduced in the 1920’s, after the creation of the modern Turkish state. He will discuss the abolition of the caliphate, the banning of the Fez, traditional headgear of Muslims, the reorganization of the judicial system and the replacement of the Arab alphabet by Latin characters. It is a popular misconception that Ataturk operated on a tabula rasa; he built on many reforms that Ottoman sultans had initiated since the 19th century. The sultans and their advisers saw how backward the empire had become compared to the West. Peter will discuss these changes. The army was remodelled with heavy German and French influence; secular schools were introduced where the medium of instruction was French; higher academic institutions were established and railways spread throughout the empire, although still not on the scale of Europe.

Finally, Peter will turn to the personal life of Ataturk and identify factors which led to his religious scepticism and his disdain for religion. Once again it will be clear that intellectual influences from France, from the ferment of ideas coming from the French Revolution played a major part.

Humanists and Atheists At Risk:

Update: Arrest and Detention of Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria

There is still no news of Mubarak Bala

Leo Igwe, Nigerian human rights advocate and humanist, was asked the question: “How about yourself? You are a well-known atheist in Nigeria and you lead the campaign to liberate Mubarak Bala #FreeMubarakBala. Aren’t you afraid you might be next to be arrested?”

Leo’s reply: “That’s exactly why I’m fighting for the liberation of Mubarak Bala. Freedom for Mubarak Bala also means freedom to me. I am currently doing everything I can to ensure the unconditional release of Bala because I know some of us would be next if the extremists succeed in doing what they threatened with Bala. Their goal is not only to silence Mubarak Bala, but to lead a blow against the atheistic movement. I know I could get arrested anytime. But if my arrest leads to all atheists in Nigeria to move freely and be treated dignified, then they should come and arrest me. I would like to pay this price. I would make this sacrifice. The oppression and persecution of atheists has been going on for too long. I hope Mubarak Bala’s case becomes a turning point in terms of the situation of atheists.”

On 24 May 2020 Harrison Mumia, President of Atheists in Kenya placed this despairing post on Facebook

“I feel defeated here.

We do not know the whereabouts of Murabak Bala, the President of Nigerian Humanists Society. He was arrested by the Nigerian Authorities about three weeks ago, taken to KANO State, and that was that. We do not know whether he is alive, dead, sick …

And despite me writing to various international human rights organizations, despite the efforts of Humanists International to get him freed (which I appreciate), despite the hashtag #FREEMUBARAKBALA trending, despite the many voices that have called for his release, almost one month since this atheists/ humanist was arrested for insulting Prophet Mohammed, WE DO NOT KNOW WHETHER MUBARAK BALA IS ALIVE.

I hope he is alive, at the least.

I just hope Mubarak Bala is alive.

Leo Igwe



Benue Humanist is marking each day of Mubarak Bala’s disappearance with a Facebook post. The comment marking Day 26 (26 May)is: Islam, Christianity, Communism, Capitalism, Socialism; they’re ideologies. They don’t have rights & should be open to criticism.

-Faisal Saheed Al Mutar #FreeMubarakBala

Humanist NZ joined the international campaign #FreeMubarakBala and wrote to Winston Peters, Minister of Foreign Affairs to request that the NZ Government take whatever diplomatic action is possible to ensure Mubarak’s safety. The following reply was received:

“Thank you for your email of 29 April 2020. It is concerning to hear again of threats towards human rights activists in Africa. The New Zealand Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is accredited to eight countries in Africa including Nigeria, as well as the African Union. The Embassy team monitor with interest the permission space for civil society in the region. As with Somalia we will monitor the situation in Nigeria and register our concerns in the appropriate forum through bilateral, regional and multilateral advocacy.

As communicated previously, New Zealand continues to advocate for the protection and promotion of human rights internationally.”

The reference to Somalia refers to a letter previously written to the Minister (10 March 2020) about the situation 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. However, on 28 February 2020, a prominent Imam Adam Sunnah publicly called for his death.

This letter was written in response to a request from Humanists International asking member Humanist Societies to write to their respective governments requesting diplomatic steps to ensure Professor Ahmed’s safety.

Babelfish Podcasts: Kirstine Kaern, a humanist from Denmark, has been travelling the world interviewing humanists about their views and experiences. These insightful and fascinating podcasts, or interviews, can be found at Kirstine’s Facebook page, Babelfish, where “humanists, atheists, freethinkers and other non-believers from around the world share their life stories & the challenges they face in a religious world.”

Kirstine visited New Zealand in January this year and met humanists from Wellington and Auckland before travelling onto Chile and back to her home in Denmark. Thankfully Kirstine was home before the Covid-19 Pandemic caused border closures and travel mayhem around the world. Kirstine has recorded 65 episodes in 25 countries. The first three New Zealand humanist podcasts have been posted on Babelfish. Listen to Sara Passmore, our present Humanist NZ treasurer and past President, Frank Dungey, a foundation Humanist NZ member and voluntary euthanasia activist of many years and Peter Clemerson who organised a strong campaign to address Female Genital Mutilation concerns in New Zealand. ( scroll down to 22 May 2020) or direct link:   There are more interviews to be posted. Kirstine talked to other Wellington humanists and also to NZARH members in Auckland.

Conway Hall Fundraiser:

Conway Hall is the home of the Conway Hall Ethical Society, formerly the South Place Ethical Society, and is thought to be the oldest surviving freethought organisation in the world and is the only remaining ethical society in the United Kingdom. It now advocates secular humanism and is a member of Humanists International. Conway Hall is a popular meeting place for humanists in the UK and around the world. With lockdown measures in place Conway Hall is feeling the financial pain the same as venues in NZ.

Bob Churchill who was in NZ for the 2018 IHEU General Assembly has made an impassioned appeal to support the fundraiser Let’s keep the doors open at Conway Hall – donate today!

I met or have hung out with a whole bunch of my Facebook friends at Conway Hall. If you’ve ever been to an event here – or even if you haven’t but you appreciate that there’s a big, venerable, trusted home for humanism in central London – then please support this appeal, so that we can get the #DoorsOpenafter lockdown. Endless talks, debates, lectures, discussion on humanist topics, as well as socials, music, dancing, not to mention classes in languages, history, philosophy. Right now we’re inevitably shut, we don’t know when we can re-open and neither do our external hirers, so external bookings look set to remain down for many months (even under whatever less-strict distancing rules may apply later it still won’t be easy for us to run events and we expect fewer external bookings under whatever level of restriction). So please give what you can and help #SaveOurVenues.”

Andrew Copson Chief Executive of Humanists UK and President of Humanists International has also made a video appeal. Andrew’s appeal gives some interesting facts about peoples and connections with Conway Hall – it houses the archives of 200 years of humanist history and Bertrand Russell spoke from the Conway Hall stage expressing his ground breaking ideas

Help Kasese Humanist School Uganda recover from flooding: At the same time as the Covid-19 Pandemic lockdown there has been severe flooding in parts of Africa. The Kasese Humanist School has had flood damage to their farming projects. The Foundation beyond Belief has organised a fundraiser:

“Kasese, Uganda has not been spared from the widespread flooding that much of East Africa is currently experiencing. Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, and Ethiopia have all experienced heavy rainfall in recent weeks and hundreds have died while hundreds of thousands have been displaced. This is coming at a time when locust swarms—the worst they’ve seen in decades— are already threatening food security in the region.

Three major rivers in the Kasese district have flooded their banks, restricting access to the region and flooding homes and businesses. Many of the students and staff of Kasese Humanist School have had to evacuate their homes. The school buildings themselves have thankfully not been flooded, but many of the farming projects that help provide food for the students have been damaged.

At the best of times, flooding like this would be an emergency. At this time, when the community is in lockdown to battle COVID19, health risks are a particular concern. Waterborne diseases are a concern for any flooding event and shelters could become hotspots for COVID19 transmission where social distancing is harder to maintain.

Our hearts go out to our humanist colleagues in Kasese. We’re committed to helping the staff, students, and families of this vital school respond to these devastating floods. If you have the means, we hope you will join us by making a contribution to their immediate recovery.” If you would like to help you may make a donation at