The International Humanist and Ethical Union, which describes itself as the world union of humanist organizations, issued in December 2012 Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious, its first report on worldwide discrimination against the non-religious.
The news release accompanying the release of the report says that:
Freedom of Thought 2012 covers laws affecting freedom of conscience in 60 countries and lists numerous individual cases where atheists have been prosecuted for their beliefs in 2012. It reports on laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.
The report highlights the fact that postings on social media such as Facebook and Twitter have been the source of many blasphemy complaints, such as:
- In Indonesia, Alexander Aan was jailed for two-and-a-half years for Facebook posts on atheism.
- In Tunisia, two young atheists, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, were sentenced to seven-and-a half years in prison for Facebook postings that were judged blasphemous.
- In Turkey, pianist and atheist Fazil Say faces jail for “blasphemous” tweets.
- In Greece, Phillipos Loizos created a Facebook page that poked fun at Greeks’ belief in miracles and is now charged with insulting religion.
- In Egypt, 17-year-old Gamal Abdou Massoud was sentenced to three years in jail, and Bishoy Kamel was imprisoned for six years, both for posting “blasphemous” cartoons on Facebook.
- The founder of Egypt’s Facebook Atheists, Alber Saber, faces jail time (he will be sentenced on 12 December).
Increasingly, it looks like governments are monitoring social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to identify dissidents or those whom they see as threats to the prevailing orthodoxy. This may be because those who use social media sites let their guard down, thinking that they are talking privately to friends or that what they write in those spaces will not be taken seriously. They may well say things on Facebook that they would hesitate to do in a newspaper article or even in a blog post.
The number of people who have said things on Facebook or Twitter that have proven to be embarrassing and then had to apologize later is too big to count. People don’t seem to have cottoned on to the fact that once you are in the internet world, it does not matter what portal you used to enter it. You are now in the public sphere.