IHEU Freedom of Thought Report 2013: Death penalty for atheism in 13 countries

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... 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

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. "This report shows that the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers although they have signed UN agreements to treat all citizens equally," said IHEU President Sonja Eggerickx. The study covered all 192 member states in the world body and involved lawyers and human rights experts looking at statute books, court records and media accounts to establish the global situation.

 IHEU Freedom of Thought Report 2013:

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 UN 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.

The IHEU, which has member bodies in some 50 countries and supporters in many more where such organisations are banned, said 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 favouring 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.

The IHEU Freedom of Thought Report 2013 has been published online today at its dedicated website freethoughtreport.com/download-the-reportIt is the first report focusing specifically on the rights, legal status, and discrimination against Humanists, atheists and the non-religious in every country in the world. The report found that:
  • You can be put to death for expressing atheism in 13 countries
  • In 39 countries the law mandates a prison sentence for blasphemy, including six western countries
  • The non-religious are discriminated against, or outright persecuted, in most countries of the world
A new report launching today, Tuesday, examines every country in the world for legal discrimination and human rights violations which specifically affect atheists, humanists and the non-religious. The "Freedom of Thought" report by the International Humanist and Ethical UnionIHEU, found widespread discrimination by governments in every region. Issues  from children forced to pray in school classrooms, to the most "GraveViolations" such as death for breaking "blasphemy" laws, are considered in the report's comprehensive rating system.
Death for unbelievers - 12 countries in Africa, 9 in Asia, and 10 in the Middle East, were given the worst rating for committing "Grave Violations". Some of these governments were found to openly incite hatred against atheists, or authorities which systematically fail to prosecute violent crimes against atheists. Furthermore, in 12 of the worst-offending states, religious authorities can put atheists to death for the crime of "apostasy" (i.e. leaving religion; in all cases the religion was Islam).
Blasphemy - Around the world, the Report found 55 countries with 'blasphemy' laws on the books, or other laws forbidding criticism or "insult" to religion. In 39 such countries the law mandates a prison sentence for blasphemers. Three states, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, can execute "blasphemers". In another three states, militant Islamists acting as religious authorities in some areas are also dealing out Sharia punishment including death for "offences" to religion: namely Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram and other Islamists in Nigeria, and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Victims speak out - The President of the IHEU, Sonja Eggerickx, said, "The opening words in last year's edition of the report, came from the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. This year we thought we would flip it around: we asked the victims to introduce our work." The report's opening remarks come from two atheists accused of apostasy and blasphemy and now living in exile or in hiding. (The cases of both Alber Saber and Kacem El Ghazzali are also featured in the report). In the opening remarks, Kacem and Alber write:
"Freedom of thought and belief must not be compromised. When regimes violently attack people for their ideas and beliefs, all human rights suffer...  In spite of international treaties and conventions, many states discriminate in subtler but important ways. And this has a global impact. Laws against "insulting" religion in relatively secure, relatively secular countries, for example, are not only analogues of the most vicious blasphemy laws anywhere in the world, but help to sustain the global norm under which thought is policed and punished."
Blasphemy in western countries - In line with their words, several possibly unexpected nations come out rather badly on the scale of five classifications -- which range upward in severity from "Free and Equal", through "Mostly Satisfactory", "Systemic Discrimination", "Severe Discrimination", to "Grave Violations". Four western countries are rated "Severe" because they can jail people for breaking laws prohibiting 'blasphemy' and other free speech on religion. Those countries are Iceland (a sentence of jail for up to 3 months), Denmark (up to 4 months), New Zealand (up to a year), Poland (up to two years), Germany (up to three years) and Greece (up to three years). Jail time could be handed to someone who simply "blasphemes God" in the case of Greece, or "insults the content of other's religious faith" in the case of Germany.
The Report's editor Bob Churchill, commented, "It may seem strange to see some of these countries up there with Uzbekistan or Ethiopia (also rated "Severe") but as Kacem and Alber say in the preface, these laws set a trend.  Failure to abolish them in one place means they're more likely to stay on the books in another place, where they can be disastrous. And even in the western countries with blasphemy-type laws there is evidence that they chill free expression, and in some countries, like Greece and Germany, people are actually prosecuted and convicted and do jail time under these laws. "All those six western states outlawing blasphemy only got a Severe rating because of that law. They might not have a completely clean slate, but they wouldn't have a Severe rating if they abolished that law."
IHEU hopes the report will help shed light on how lesser but systemic discrimination in most countries privileges religion and that it will drive change on the worst violations. "Abolition of blasphemy is what the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief are pushing for, it's what the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief wants: a global repeal of blasphemy to protect everyone's right to convert.  If these six countries can't do it, what hope is there for countries that punish insults to religion with death?"

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