Kia ora

At the present United Nations General Assembly, President Trump said that the United States will not participate in the global compact on migration, and suggests refugees should stay in their own countries and “make their countries great again.” This attitude is not credible. We know refugees already want to work for an equitable society in their own country, but governments and political leaders render their hopes impossible. I am quoting two passages from a letter received from a person under personal threat and searching for asylum. In the first he describes how he has been working for human rights in his country:

I wrote about feminism, women’s sexuality and the right women in different aspects of life. I wrote about homosexuality and their rights. I protested against the blogger killings in Bangladesh, wrote about the atrocity that took place in the past and continue to do so on the innocent minority of Bangladesh, where property and women are constantly violated by the Muslim majority. I wrote about the government sponsored abduction of bloggers and obstruction of free speech in Bangladesh. I wrote about the ever present systematic corruption in everyday life of a Bangladeshi, how innocent people are constantly deprived of basic services and the right to everyday life. Making matters worse, they are even denied the pursuit of happiness. I wrote about religious superstition and how such superstition obstructs reasonable and critical thinking of the average Bangladeshi.

Then he describes how he is being treated for this effort:

The shower of threats began and continued for days, then weeks and then months. I was expelled from my college and hostel in Dhaka. Some of my fundamentalist teachers tried to get me arrested, realizing I had left Dhaka for my village. I couldn’t stay in the village for long once the locals knew I was there. I started to get phone calls and verbal threats to kill me wherever they found me. From my village home, I went to my maternal aunt’s place. When they found my whereabouts, I got thousands of phone calls and threats to burn my aunt’s home if they were to shelter me there, so I left them as well. Now I ama fugitive, hopping from one shelter to another.”

We also have the text below of Rana Amjad Sattar’s talk at our September meeting describing the situation in Pakistan.

How much more hopeful were the words of Jacinda Ardern at the UN General Assembly during the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, “We must not be silent in the face of intolerance, hate and discrimination. We must speak for those who do not have voice”

Monthly meeting: Monday October 1 6.30pm til 9.00pm

Freedom of Expression, Blasphemy Law, and Hate Speech Law

There is a fundamental difference between Freedom of expression, and Hate Speech, and it is important to recognise this difference.

Freedom of expression is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or sanction. Blasphemy is defined as the act of expressing contempt or a lack of reverence for God or sacred things. Blasphemy laws protect institutions while victimising people and invariably violate freedom of expression.

Hate speech, on the other hand, is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Hate speech laws are laws that prohibit the imminent incitement to hatred or violence against individuals or groups of people on any of these grounds. A high threshold is normally set by the courts. Blasphemy is not considered to be hate speech as it is not speech that attacks individuals.

The International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which binds New Zealand and deals with Freedom of Expression and Hate Speech under separate sections, recognises this difference.When thinking about these important concepts it is also useful to re-read Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance from hisbook The Open Society and its Enemies (1945):

“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room

2018 Humanist Society of NZ AGM: Notice is given that our 2018 AGM will be held on Monday 5 November, 6.30pm at the Thistle Inn. The AGM will replace our monthly meeting. We welcome your attendance as we look towards 2019 and another year of humanist activity in NZ.

YouTube clip and Video from the Humanist Conference There’s no Māori word for ‘atheist’ – Te Henare and Eru Hiko-Tahuri

and Parliamentary Welcome Function

(courtesy of Yaroslav Golovin)

Keep an eye out for new conference videos every Monday on our facebook page:

Pakistan: On the Threats of being a Humanist: In 2016, Rana Amjad Sattar founded the Pakistan Humanist Society and Rana spoke at our September monthly meeting. Here is the text of Rana’s talk at us.

Dear fellow humanists

It seems that secularism and humanism is gaining little momentum in Pakistan. People are tired of an overdose of religiosity injected by the state in every sphere of life. Despite extreme coercive measures like enforced disappearances, torture, drag and gag policy on the freedom of the press, deep state agents are unable to silence pertinent questions raised on social media and in private conversations.

Deep state actors and agents are convinced that their seventy year old doctrine of necessity and brutal repression of people is highly threatened these days. They feel so desperate that suicide bombing attacks on secular minded innocent gatherings during the election campaign were perpetrated to send a loud and clear message to all the voters who are vying for a secular state. Although security forces and their spokespersons made tall claims that they have broken the terrorist backbone in Operation Rad-ul-Fasad, the ground realities and blown up pieces of human flesh are telling horrendous stories of bloodshed.

Almost two hundred innocent civilians lost their lives in recent elections just because their corner meetings and congregations were considered an impediment against political use of religion in public life. And secondly, deep state authorities facilitated mainstreaming of banned militant groups by allowing them to contest these elections.

It aches my heart and rakes my nerves to think about the multiple woes of bereaved families and children who lost their bread winners in these suicide bombings. These precious lives will never come back to this world again, but their corpses and body parts put up the most powerful questions, not only as a front to the deep state functionaries but also to the world communities who are doing business with this rogue state.

And likewise, all the humanist secular people of Pakistan who sympathize and mourn for these innocent victims are living under constant fear and frightened. On the contrary, everything went smoothly for army backed Imran Khan who had vetoed the Women Protection Bill against the Hudood Ordinance in Parliament.

I beseech all the humanist, secular people and governments of the world to do whatever can be done to protect secular humanist people of Pakistan who are constantly crumbling under fear.

I am deeply grateful to all fellow humanists here for their help and support to get me out of the inferno_ unfortunately that’s no foreign country but my own homeland Pakistan. I highly appreciate the support extended by members of IHEU for ensuring my safety and safe exit from Pakistan. A slight and sudden steep or slander towards blasphemy could have me thrashed by an angry mob just like the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer and Mishaal Khan.

IHEU at the UN Human Rights Council speaking out against Blasphemy Law:

Blasphemy laws protect ideas over people; they violate human rights and foster intolerance.

Imran Khan, Pakistan’s new PM has made remarks in defence of a law that includes the death penalty for blasphemy in Pakistan, and has made a commitment to bring back a global blasphemy law at the UN.

At the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council Elizabeth O’Casey, Director of Advocacy at IHEU made the following statement:

“In Pakistan, it has become very easy to use religion for silencing people, especially human rights defenders. We have seen how, in the past, blasphemy has been used as a political tool.”

These are the words of Gulalai Ismail, board member of the IHEU and co-founder of Aware Girls. She has been accused of blasphemy and threatened due to her work to empower and educate women and girls; and for campaigning for justice for Mashal Khan. Mashal Khan, a humanist, was killed by a group of fellow students after blasphemy accusations in April 2017.

Blasphemy accusations in Pakistan are frequently devastating. The accused can become embroiled in years of trials while imprisoned and face a death sentence. There is also a serious risk of extrajudicial killing at the hands of radical Islamists or enraged mobs. Since 1990, vigilantes have been accused of murdering 65 people associated with blasphemy accusations.

Despite this, the recently elected Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has not only supported blasphemy laws at home – [specifically the law that carries a death sentence for the use of derogatory remarks about Muhammad] – but has voiced his desire to promote a global restriction on criticism of religion.

We remind Pakistan and Prime Minister Khan, that the UN Special Rapporteur on Free Expression, the Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide have all called for blasphemy laws to be repealed globally.

At the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council , Kacem El Ghazzali, secularist writer and activist and one of the few Moroccans to publicly announce to be an atheist, and now resident in Switzerland also spoke  condemning states that criminalize apostasy.

Kacem El Ghazzali highlighted the 12 countries which can punish with death people who leave or change their religion: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

El Ghazzali said, “apostasy” should never be treated as criminal offence, let alone be punished by the death penalty, and commended the UN Human Rights Council Resolution passed last September which specifically condemned the use of the death penalty for apostasy (as well as blasphemy and same-sex relations).

His statement also highlighted the Saudi Arabian law which defines atheism as terrorism, and condemns Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UN for comments he made about atheists needing to keep their beliefs to themselves so as not to be “subversive.”

In April 2017, Ahmad Al Shamri was sentenced to death “for atheism” by the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia.  One and a half years later his status is still unknown – though it is believed he is still incarcerated. The IHEU has launched a campaign urging the humanist community to urgently demand an update on Ahmad’s status from the Saudi authorities.

This is the text of his statement

The Durban Declaration, adopted in 2009 at the World Conference Against Racism,  observes that, “religion, spirituality and belief […] can contribute to the promotion of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person and to the eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

It seems we need to remind many States that “belief” includes atheism, humanism and freethinking, since freethinkers and atheists face imprisonment, systematic persecution, discrimination, social ostracism, as well as violence and the threat of violence by vigilantes or militant groups.

In at least 12 countries around the world “apostasy,” which is the act of leaving or changing religion, is punishable by death: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

In Saudi Arabian law, to “promote atheist thought in any form” is to be a terrorist. The Saudi Ambassador to the UN Mr Abdallah Al-Mouallimi has defended this law, saying that professing atheism in public is inherently subversive. [In April 2017, Ahmad Al Shamri was sentenced to death “for atheism” by the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia.]

The right to freedom of religion or belief includes the right to leave religion entirely and to freely identify with whatever label fits for the individual – including atheist, humanist, agnostic, etc.

The IHEU welcomes the human rights council resolution of September 2017, which demanded the abolition of the death penalty for apostasy. “Apostasy” should never be treated as criminal offence, let alone be punished by the death penalty. We call on all the States mentioned above through this Council to comply with their human rights obligations and abolish all apostasy laws.

It is clear that in NZ it is imperative that we repeal the NZ Blasphemy Law.

New Draft Guidelines for Religion in Schools have been released. David Hines spokesperson for the Secular Education Network (SEN) made the following media statement:

Negotiators from the Secular Education Network have thanked the Ministry of Education for draft guidelines about religious instruction issued for public consultation today.

David Hines and Tanya Jacob took part in a mediation with the Ministry in 2015, but after a few months the Ministry stopped sending updates, apparently on instructions from Minister of Education Hekia Parata.

Hines says the guidelines are a significant step forward and would cover a number, but not all of the concerns that were raised in mediation. He thanks the Ministry and Minister of Education Chris Hipkins, for reviving the issue, and inviting us to comment.

·The draft recommends that the trustees of state primary schools should consult the community about plans to allow religious instruction to be held, and should provide full and accurate information to students, families and whanau to help them make decisions about whether they want it at their schools.

·This should include written advice about the nature of the content being taught.

·It should make it clear that these programmes endorse a particular religious faith and will use or reference religious documents such as the Bible.

·It should make it clear that the programmes are not religious education, and therefore not part of the New Zealand Curriculum

·Schools who choose to offer religious instruction could hold it at times when a school is usually closed, such as before or after school or during lunchtime.

·If they offer it at times when the school would usually be open for teaching there should be a valid well-planned education alternative for students who do not attend. The alternative programme should not be perceived as punishment for not participating in religious instruction

·Children should only be placed in religious instruction if there is written, signed consent from their parents, caregivers and whanau.

·Schools should set up open complaints procedures for parents who oppose religious instruction.

·Pastoral or student services should be secular in nature, and should not be linked to the religious instruction programme.

David Hines says none of the hundreds of schools SEN members have been complaining are following these guidelines, so it would be a considerable improvement if they were followed.

In particular, religious instruction leaders regularly deny that they are promoting the Christian faith, and advertise their programmes as reinforcing the New Zealand Curriculum.

However, even if all the guidelines were followed, the schools which run religious instruction would segregate pupils into those whose parents favour religious instruction and those who oppose it, which is discriminatory and destroys the parents’ and children’s right to keep their religious views private.

Moreover, the guidelines will not be mandatory, so our complaint filed with the Auckland High Court last month will go ahead, saying that the laws which permit religious instruction are inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

Members of the Secular Education Network are also concerned that the guidelines do not mention other forms of religious discrimination. In particular:

·There are no guidelines for religious songs and prayers being used in school assemblies. At present this happens in a number of schools with no provision of alternative programmes for children whose parents do not want them to take part.

·There are no guidelines for secondary schools which also have religious assemblies, religious clubs, religious chaplains and religious youth workers. A recent report from the Churches Education Commission, the largest provider of religious instruction programmes, says they want to encourage local churches to build up relationships with their local schools, together with the chaplains that they already provide.

·Although the guidelines suggest schools should set up complaints procedures, they do not include the right to refer these complaints to the Ministry of Education or the Education Review Authority. In a number of cases assisted by the Secular Education Network, parents have been dissatisfied with the way minority views are treated. They have complained to the Ministry of Education, and its staff have frequently replied (as recently as last week) that they have no power to intervene.

·The guidelines fail to mention that complaints about religion in schools can be referred to the Human Rights Commission, but the Commission too has no legal right to make a ruling, which is why our own complaint to the Ministry (which led to the mediation) is still unresolved after three years.

Submissions are called for by 7 December