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 May 2020

Kia ora: I invite contributions to the newsletter, sharing your experiences and the thoughts that have come out of these past five weeks of bubble isolation. Included in this newsletter are interviews between Humanists International and two young humanist leaders, Viola in Uganda and Adrian in Peru, telling of the Covid-19 situation in their own countries. I feel rather removed from the realities of life with only the daily 1.00pm briefings with Jacinda and Dr Bloomfield, and the company of my Facebook newsfeed to keep me informed of circumstances. I have gardened and enjoyed using up the long-hidden detritus of the freezer and the pantry.

Peter Bacos, a Wellington member, who approached the Lockdown bubble on his own with apprehension, found he had an unexpected strength and sent me this evocative Lament: “The glorious quiet of Level 4 has gone. I loved it, the peace and tranquillity restored my spirits and gave me a contentment I have never known. The traffic cacophony is almost back to normal. We had a glimpse of Eden and now it is gone. First and only time in my life I have, or will ever know such stillness, you could hear the earth breath.” There is grief for those who have lost family and friends to Covid-19, and difficulties and economic hardship for many is looming. The economic consequences of this Lockdown will likely be massive. But it is heartening that we have an economist Shamubeel Eaqub in New Zealand who has said: “From a human perspective, I do not want my government to put the people of NZ at risk. The economy doesn’t matter.”

Where will we be in another month? Many of our humanist colleagues in other countries are facing massive issues with superstition and the extremes of radical fundamentalist religion. We are especially concerned for Mubarak Bala, who has recently been accused of Blasphemy in Nigeria.

Monthly meeting: Monday May 4th 7.00 pm until 9.00pm

Thistle Inn Meeting Cancelled due to Covid-19 Nationwide Lockdown

HOWEVER

Humanist Meet-Up Same Time On-Line 7.00pm

How can Humanist NZ respond to the consequences of Covid-19?

Our first on-line meeting, on the 13th of April, went well, and we will hold our regular monthly meeting on-line for the duration of the Lockdown period. We are uncertain at what Lockdown Level we can resume our public meetings.

Look for the Zoom link to our Humanist Meet-Up Event on our Facebook page. It will be posted prior to the Meet-Up.

We are entering new territory with a post- Covid 19 New Zealand. How can our Humanist Society respond to our ‘new world’? What will be the issues that our New Zealand community will have to think about? As humanists how can we respond to our national issues and also international issues? It will be good to see you there. Zoom meetings have certainly enabled contact between our bubbles. Zoom meetings have become a new norm prompting a whole new joke category. Have you discovered The NZ Police https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=935202460228364 and Tom Sainsbury, also has very funny Zoom observations

https://www.faceboo k.com/watch/?v=823252964830126

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

African human rights activist and the President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria Mubarak Bala was arrested on 28 April by two police officers who took him from his home. According to local sources his arrest could be in connection with a charge of blasphemy for his activities on social networking sites.

There is international concern that if the charge is confirmed and he is found guilty, Mubarak could face the death penalty.

Mubarak Bala is well-known within the global humanist community after he was detained in 2014, in a psychiatric ward on the grounds that he was an atheist. With the support of Humanists International, Mubarak was freed on 3 July 2014.

When he was freed from the psychiatric ward a second campaign was launched to enable Mubarak to seek asylum in North America, where he would be safe from further accusations. However, Mubarak refused this life-line knowing that his activism was needed more in Nigeria. Mubarak stayed in Nigeria despite the willingness of many people to fight for him to obtain asylum, and despite the danger, because he knew someone had to do something to change the atmosphere in Nigeria. In the

last six years, Mubarak has become a prolific humanist activist in Nigeria,

helping the secular movement grow there.

Leo Igwe, founder of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, says: “All of us at the Humanist Association of Nigeria are deeply worried by the arrest and detention of our President, Mubarak Bala. Mubarak will likely be handed over to the Kano state police command, that will prosecute him for blasphemy, a crime that carries a death sentence under Sharia law. We urge the Inspector General of Police, the Governor of Kaduna, Mallam Elrufai to ensure his immediate release.”

Gary McLelland, CEO of Humanists International, comments: “News of Mubarak’s arrest is of serious concern to the international humanist community. Mubarak is a well-known and hugely respected activist.” “We are working with our Members, Associates and Supporters to coordinate a global response to have Mubarak freed.”

Update 6.30pm Thursday 30 April: Nigerian Humanist’s worst fears have been realised as Leo Igwe has notified through Facebook that Mubarak has been transferred to Kano where the Sharia Court is able to give the death sentence for Blasphemy.

Humanist NZ has written to Winston Peters, the Minister of Foreign Affairs outlining this dreadful situation and asking our government for intervention. This letter can be viewed at: https://humanist.nz/news/mubarak/

Help show our international support by signing the Petition for Mubarak Bala: the link is:

https://www.change.org/p/international-association-of-atheists-freemubarakbala

Mini Survey: Humanists tell us how their country is coping with Covid-19

Humanists International has asked humanists from around the world to share with us what is happening in their country. Below are interviews with Viola from Uganda and Adrian from Peru. More interviews can be found at

Viola Namyalo: Membership Director of the Uganda Humanist Association (UHASSO) and Regional Committee Chair of Young Humanists International’s African Regional Committee.

What is the current situation in Uganda?

The situation in Uganda is pretty bad and it keeps getting worse. Today (April 10th) we have 54 confirmed cases. We are happy that no deaths have been confirmed so far. The country is under lockdown and there is a curfew from 7 pm to 6 pm

And how is your country responding to the emergency so far?

As mentioned, we are under lockdown and the government has closed almost all institutions except the ones considered to be essential. Public transportation was stopped and people are expected to stay at home. There are some efforts to provide extremely poor individuals with some food.

How have the measures affected society?

Unfortunately, reports show a local and global increase in domestic violence cases, especially towards women. Indeed, a lot of women who were already at risk of abuse before are now locked in their own houses with their violent partners and no way of escape. They cannot even look for help because of the quarantine. It’s a terrible situation. In addition, the most vulnerable people in society (like the ones who are ill, the extremely poor and pregnant women) find it hard to access health services without public transportation which has led to some deaths.

And how has the emergency affected your organization and the individuals within it? And how are you responding to the emergency?

The organization has paused its activities. Before this happened, we were lobbying for legalizing humanist marriages also with the support of a Humanist Development Grant from Humanists International. We are happy that we had the chance to hand over our petition to the Parliament, the Ministry of Justice and The Uganda Registration of Services Bureau before the lockdown. We successfully collected over 400 signatures from all over the country. The organization is looking forward to hearing from them after this pandemic. We created awareness about this pandemic both online and through our community radio at Pearl Vocational Training College. Raising awareness online has worked well for people in the city while the community radio has worked well for people in more rural areas.

More in general, how do you think we should face this emergency as humanists? Which humanist principles should we value most right now?

As humanists, we should listen to what the health workers are telling us, because more than ever this is the time to embrace science. It is very important that we show love and care for each other. This can be done through checking on each other via text messages – little things like this make people feel loved.  It also gives them a reason to carry on during this difficult time.

How can the international community support your efforts?

We need financial support to create more awareness where possible. Our awareness message broadcasted at the community radio can reach out to four villages but we would like to reach out to more villages. In addition, we want to give out some basic products like soap and masks, especially in the remote areas the government has neglected. The government is only concentrating on poor people in urban areas and leaving out the less fortunate living in rural areas. Any help given to us is appreciated.

And what is your message to the global humanist community?

We should continue taking care of ourselves, check on our colleagues with simple texts and of course keep smiling and being positive in this difficult time.

Adrián Núñez, Executive Director of the Secular Humanist Society of Peru,

What is the current situation in your country, Peru?

On March 6, the first case of COVID-19 in Peru was confirmed. He is a commercial pilot who returned from his holidays in Spain, France and the Czech Republic. Today we have 2,561 official cases and 92 deaths.

And how is your country responding to the emergency so far? Ten days after the first official case, the Peruvian government began to take confinement measures progressively. School classes were cancelled first, then events of more than 300 people. On March 16, a national quarantine was decreed and it has become increasingly restrictive. The government is taking evidence-based measures and is having a very high acceptance in public opinion because of this. Despite this, we still do not know how long mandatory confinement will be extended. On the other hand, parts of the population are having difficulty following government directions and more than 50,000 people have already been arrested.

How has the emergency affected your organisation and the individuals within it?

We had to reorganize our activities because all our face-to-face events were suspended until the quarantine ends. This includes our radio program “Para Normales de la Noche”, sponsored by Humanists International – we managed to host just the first three episodes, but we will get back in studio when the lockdown will be over. One of our directors has signs of COVID-19. He is waiting for the test to be taken these days, but he is in good condition.

How is your organization responding to the emergency?

We are creating online content to keep the population properly informed and to dispel myths and quackery that arises from COVID-19. We believe indeed that proper scientific information is key now, and humanist organizations all around the world can play their part.

More in general, how do you think we should face this emergency as humanists? Which humanist principles should we value most right now?

As humanists, we rely on scientific evidence, human experience in various fields, and the ability to work as a team to solve the problems that emerge from this crisis. In contrast to this, we debunk those who try to take advantage of fear and offer magical solutions that are not based on any evidence. We also take advantage of the moment to spread ideas about how to think critically and ethically, noting the importance of solidarity and equal rights for all. Although the government and specifically the police and military forces sometimes have to act with force to preserve order and confinement, we know that democracy is the best system we have been able to create to organize our society and we monitor that the limits it places on the monopolistic exercise of state violence do not exceed.

Science, democracy, solidarity: this emergency is putting the whole mankind to the test. Do you see any positive side in all of this?

The decrease in human activity has improved air quality (NO2 and PM2.5 levels) and decreased noise and light pollution, and we optimistically see that this great social and ecological “experiment” never carried out before will help us to take actions in favour of the environment in the future.

What about religions? What is their role during the pandemic?

Religions can serve to give comfort and a sense of community to many people, but it is also evident (if it was not evident already before) that they do not provide miraculous solutions and that in some cases they hinder the most rational action (in Peru there have been multiple cases of churches that have refused to suspend their face-to-face activities, violating the current norms).We appreciate the religious groups that are adjusting to quarantine, and we criticize to those who put everyone’s health at risk for not complying with the law.

What kind of support do you need from the international community?

The countries that are ahead of us in the advancement of the disease help us to make forecasts and to decide what measures to take, but we depend on the transparency of the information. For example, if not enough tests are being performed, if they are poorly taken, or if patients are discharged prematurely, we must exercise caution when using official data. So it would be useful for us to share not only the data but also what could distort the real numbers.

What is your message to humanists all around the world?

Secular humanism can give us a special vision of what is happening in our locality in this crisis. For example, in Lima, the mayor has turned the bullring into a temporary shelter for the homeless (search for “la casa de todos” on the Internet). People with a humanistic heart have seen with joy the wit of the mayor, but also the complaint of the fans of bulls has been evident, and this has eroded the image of the bull fighting advocates. It could be valuable if we shared these experiences. Some of them could be replicated.