— The Erimtan Angle —

The news agency Reuters‘ Robert Evans reports that in “13 countries around the world, all of them Muslim, people who openly espouse atheism or reject the official state religion of Islam face execution under the law, according to a detailed study issued on Tuesday. And beyond the Islamic nations, even some of the West’s apparently most democratic governments at best discriminate against citizens who have no belief in a god and at worst can jail them for offences dubbed blasphemy, it said. The study, The Freethought Report 2013, was issued by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), a global body uniting atheists, agnostics and other religious skeptics, to mark United Nations’ Human Rights Day on Tuesday [. 10 December]”.[1]

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) was founded ‘in Amsterdam in 1952 [and] is the sole world umbrella organisation embracing Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, skeptic, laique, ethical cultural, freethought and similar organisations world-wide. [Its] vision is a Humanist world; a world in which human rights are respected and everyone is able to live a life of dignity. The mission of IHEU is to build and represent the global Humanist movement that defends human rights and promotes Humanist values world-wide. IHEU sponsors the triennial World Humanist Congress. Based in London, IHEU is an international NGO with Special Consultative Status with the UN (New York, Geneva, Vienna), General Consultative Status at UNICEF (New York) and the Council of Europe (Strasbourg), and maintains operational relations with UNESCO (Paris). IHEU has observer status at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights’ and the ‘long term strategic aims of IHEU are: To promote Humanism as a non-theistic life stance throughout the world. To represent Humanists within the international community and organisations. To defend human rights and the rights of Humanists. To develop organised Humanism in every part of the world. To build a strong and effective global organisation’.[2]

IHEU President Sonja Eggerickx states that “This report shows that the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers although they have signed U.N agreements to treat all citizens equally”.[iii]  For his part, Reuters’ Evans continues that the “study covered all 192 member states in the world body [, the U.N.] and involved lawyers and human rights experts looking at statute books, court records and media accounts to establish the global situation. A first survey of 60 countries last year showed just seven where death, often by public beheading, is the punishment for either blasphemy or apostasy – renouncing belief or switching to another religion which is also protected under U.N. accords. But this year’s more comprehensive study showed six more, bringing the full list to Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. In others, like India in a recent case involving a leading critic of religion, humanists say police are often reluctant or unwilling to investigate murders of atheists carried out by religious fundamentalists. Across the world, the report said, “there are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, revoke their citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prevent them working for the state”. Criticism of religious faith or even academic study of the origins of religions is frequently treated as a crime and can be equated to the capital offence of blasphemy, it asserted”.[4]

Evans further writes that the “IHEU . . . said [that] there was systematic or severe discrimination against atheists across the 27-nation European Union. The situation was severe in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Malta and Poland where blasphemy laws allow for jail sentences up to three years on charges of offending a religion or believers. In these and all other EU countries, with the exception of the Netherlands and Belgium which the report classed as “free and equal,” there was systemic discrimination across society favoring religions and religious believers. In the United States, it said, although the situation was “mostly satisfactory” in terms of legal respect for atheists’ rights, there were a range of laws and practices “that equate being religious with being American.” In Latin America and the Caribbean, atheists faced systemic discrimination in most countries except Brazil, where the situation was “mostly satisfactory,” and Jamaica and Uruguay which the report judged as “free and equal.” Across Africa, atheists faced severe or systemic violations of their rights to freedom of conscience but also grave violations in several countries, including Egypt, Libya and Morocco, and nominally Christian Zimbabwe and Eritrea”.[5]


[1] Robert Evans, “Atheists face death in 13 countries, global discrimination: study” Reuters (09 December 2013). http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/10/us-religion-atheists-idUSBRE9B900G20131210.

[2] “About IHEU” IHEU (25 Oct 2007). http://iheu.org/content/about-iheu.

[3] Robert Evans, “Atheists face death in 13 countries, global discrimination: study”.

[4] Robert Evans, “Atheists face death in 13 countries, global discrimination: study”.

[5] Robert Evans, “Atheists face death in 13 countries, global discrimination: study”.


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