This could happen to anyone.
On March 14, 2013, a 63-year-old atheist writer named Aleksandr Kharlamov was arrested in his hometown of Ridder in the east region of Kazakhstan and tried under the country’s Criminal Code Article 164 on charges of “inciting religious hatred” for articles he wrote criticizing religion. According to Forum 18 News Service based in Oslo, Norway, Kharlamov’s sentence included a month of enforced psychiatric detention and five months in prison. During that time Kharlamov lost 44 pounds.
An atheist writer. I’m an atheist writer. I’m trying to imagine being arrested and imprisoned for that.
[T]he American Humanist Association connected with Kharlamov and supported his legal efforts with a $2,000 donation as part of its increased work to defend the rights of nonbelievers abroad. Kharlamov took time to answer a few questions for TheHumanist.com (translated from Russian):
TheHumanist.com: Do you know of other atheists living in modern Kazakhstan?
Kharlamov: Yes, there are other atheists living in Kazakhstan. Many of my colleagues, who are journalists and human rights activists, are atheists, and there are many more. These people came to my defense. Atheists in Kazakhstan are highly spiritual and highly moral people, but they don’t believe in fictional gods. It is our hope that humanity will not disappear from the face of the planet, but that we will help build a new civilization of truth and justice.
TheHumanist.com: Do you think there will be freedom of religion in modern Kazakhstan?
Kharlamov: In modern Kazakhstan, under the current political and legal regime, there is no true freedom of religion, and the situation is getting worse and worse. It is evident that most Kazakh authorities support the religion of Islam and persecute non-Muslims, including atheists. However, religious Islamists create organized crime and extremist militias, religious Kazakhstans commit crimes, and participate in armed religious conflict, like in Syria. Fanatics from the religion of Islam believe that their religion is the one true one and should become the only religion on the planet.
TheHumanist.com: How difficult is it to be an atheist in modern Kazakhstan?
Kharlamov: In modern Kazakhstan it’s very difficult, because true atheists reject inventions and fight against every lie. We have to deal with people who spread lies, misinformation, inadequate thinking, and primitive ideology. People who are honest, truthful, and fair are taken into custody and put in prison or in camps. This hampers science, technology, and social progress.
I hope things get better for him.