Persecution against the non-religious is on the rise - Freedom of Thought report 2015
There has been a rise in extrajudicial violence, and in several states harsher judicial sentences have been handed down for crimes such as “blasphemy” and “apostasy” (leaving religion).
The Freedom of Thought Report 2015, produced by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), records discrimination and persecution against humanists, atheists, and the non-religious, with a country-by-country assessment.
The 2015 study draws attention to a string of murders in Bangladesh: four humanist bloggers and one secular publisher were hacked to death in machete assassinations. The victims were Avijit Roy, Washqiur Rahman Babu, Ananta Bijoy Das, Niladri Chatterjee, and most recently the publisher Faisal Arefin Dipon.
While these deaths have been relatively well-reported in international media, as has the plight of Saudi secularist Raif Badawi who was lashed 50 times earlier in the year on the charge of “insulting religion”, the report also highlights far less well-known cases, such as Egyptian student Sherif Gaber. In February this year, Gaber was sentenced to a year’s hard labour for “contempt of religion” (he had declared his atheism on Facebook) and for promoting “debauchery” (he had challenged a lecturer who said that homosexuals should be “killed in the streets”). Gaber went into hiding following the sentence this year. Another Egyptian student, Karim al-Banna, was arrested at an atheist cafe last November, and was this year handed a three-year jail term for “insulting religion”.
Three prominent Indian rationalists have been assassinated in the past few years, two in 2015, after challenging religious superstition and right-wing policies. In the past twelve months there have been at least two new death sentences for “apostasy”: Ashraf Fayadh in Saudi Arabia and Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkheitr in Mauritania, not to mention the many “blasphemers” and “apostates” killed by ISIS.
In the Maldives, the administrators of atheist Facebook pages were publicly identified, kidnapped by a 40-strong gang, compelled to “recant” their atheism and hand over passwords to their accounts. Anti-atheist Facebook pages have forced many secular Maldivians offline throughout 2015.
“Last year we recorded a rise in hate speech and rhetoric: Presidents saying ‘humanism’ and ‘liberalsim’ were a threat to the state, laws branding atheism as ‘terrorism’, and so on. This year we’ve seen that rhetoric bubble over into truly malicious acts of persecution,” says IHEU President, Andrew Copson.
“Our ongoing concern is that with Jihadist extremism setting the bar very high for brutality, it is creating a space for this deepening, noxious hatred against the non-religious in a growing number of countries, primarily Islamic states. It’s almost as if there’s this false need to create an equal, imaginary threat from the opposite end of the belief spectrum, as a kind of false balance to the likes of ISIS. In fact this strategy is sometimes almost completely explicit, as in Egypt’s ‘war on atheism’ for example. This entirely misplaced reaction against the non-religious is turning to increasing violence by non-state actors, and ever harsher, transparently unjust sentences from state authorities.”
The report records with approval the abolition of “blasphemy” laws in both Iceland and Norway this year. However, the overwhelming message is of secular voices under increasing threat around the world. The report concludes: “Agree with their underlying humanist worldview or not, some of the clearest, bravest, most innovative voices in the social-political sphere will continue to be the humanists, the atheists, the non-religious, or the religiously unaffiliated, and they are a necessary, often profoundly influential part of any real debate in any truly open society. The world must recognise that to identify and speak out as non-religious is a basic human right, and the fact there are increasing numbers of people demanding recognition of this right is not a signal of moral decay but of a functioning, free society.”
The Freedom of Thought Report 2015 can be downloaded [from Thursday 10th December] from http://freethoughtreport.com.
The Freedom of Thought Report is published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) with contributions from independent researchers and IHEU Member Organisations around the world.
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