I thank Andrew Copson, the chief executive of the British Humanist Association, for writing an article about persecution of atheists on Humans Rights Day. What he says is so true! The world is silent while atheists are persecuted.
The plight of the non-religious is not new – the Bangladeshi humanist Taslima Nasrin has lived in exile for nearly twenty years – but the availability of free expression through social media in particular is triggering greater persecution than before. Between 2007 and 2011, IHEU saw only three major social media ‘blasphemy’ prosecutions. In 2012 the report documents more than a dozen cases of people in ten different countries charged for ‘blasphemous’ statements made on social media. People like Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old poet and columnist from Saudi Arabia, denounced as an apostate and now held in a Saudi jail; or Alber Saber, due to be sentenced in Egypt this week, accused of uploading the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ YouTube video, and arrested by the police which his mother called to disperse a mob that was threatening him; or Alexander Aan in Indonesia, sentenced to more than two years for “spreading… religious hatred and animosity” by running an atheist Facebook page.
Europe also violates the fundamental rights of individuals to freedom of expression.
Europe is not immune from these developments. Today’s report includes the case of Phillipos Loizos, arrested in Greece for creating a Facebook page that compared the late monk Elder Paisios to pastitsio, a baked pasta dish; the prosecution in Greece of the producers of the play Corpus Christi, the patrons of which were intimidated and assaulted by neo-Nazi Golden Dawn thugs and Christian activists; pop singer Doda in Poland prosecuted and fined for criticising the Bible.
The truth is:
Many governments shy away from promoting freedom of religion or belief abroad because it can also challenge comfortable orthodoxies and constitutional arrangements in their own countries, but they must not. The silence of some states provides consent for the increasing use by others of blasphemy, apostasy, and other discriminatory laws to prevent free association, chill free expression, punish thought-crimes, ruin lives and even end them. Those with humanist and other non-religious convictions are often in even greater difficulty in nations that disrespect freedom of conscience than those of minority religions, as they are by definition less organised, and less able to draw on community support. They need the support of all global citizens of goodwill to talk about their plight and work within all nations to defend them.
If the world were not silent, atheists all over the world could express their critical opinions about religion without being threatened. If the world were not silent, atheists could come out of prisons and I could return to my country. If the world were not silent, the world would have been a safe place for all of us.