Worldwide discrimination against the non-religious

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.


  1. says

    You are now in the public sphere.

    Because “your” government wants it that way. Privacy has only ever really been a privilege of the wealthy and powerful (who need it, to keep everyone else from fucking killing them for being such a bunch of robbers, cheaters and liars)

  2. smrnda says

    A problem I see with the ‘you’re in the public sphere, deal with it and watch what you say’ is that ‘public’ is pretty broad. What counts as public communication or expression? Is my conversation at a cafe public or private?

    The other problem is that ‘freedom of expression’ is kind of meaningless if there can exist stiff penalties for expressing viewpoints, regardless of whether it’s the government or a private agency who chooses to use what you say against you. There is a real danger of employers feeling they can fire employees at will for stating opinions that the company doesn’t like outside of work. In some cases I can see this as justified – a teacher or police officer who expresses bigotry is unlikely to do the duties of their job properly, and a mental health practitioner who advocates for say, outmoded theories on homosexuality and the belief that it can be *cured* should probably be penalized or removed from the profession as they are advocated pseudoscience. People who say offensive things online should expect to be called out for them, or at least asked to defend them, the same as if they’d written to the paper.

    But if governments are persecuting atheists for stating their opinions on this matter online, the problem is not that the atheist bloggers and activists should have thought twice before posting the material, it’s that there should be no laws against blasphemy anywhere, and seeing this problem shift from Muslim nations to places like Greece or even Russia is a troubling development as it proves this problem isn’t confined to Muslim extremists.

    I think people are aware that what they write is public, but it isn’t like people didn’t say things they regretted before the internet. It just makes the process of calling out, asking for an apology and the discussion move so much faster and more openly.

  3. thewhollynone says

    The Mississippi state constitution still bars atheists from holding public office, and I doubt that any legislator is brave enough or foolhardy enough to introduce a bill to change that.

  4. raven says

    The Mississippi state constitution still bars atheists from holding public office, and I doubt that any legislator is brave enough or foolhardy enough to introduce a bill to change that.

    It’s not just Mississippi.

    Seven or eight states bar atheists from holding office and/or serving on juries.

    A Supreme court case nullified those laws in the late 20th century. They’ve never been removed. I doubt any legislator would take a risk by trying to remove them. They are merely symbolic. Symbolic of xian hate and bigotry.

  5. smrnda says

    I really should be following that more closely; I had thought that the various proposals to put any sort of anti-blasphemy laws in place in the UN had mostly fizzled out.

    Another problem with blasphemy laws is that, given the diversity of religions, there’s practically no statements that *some* religion might not find blasphemous. Saying “Mohammad is a prophet” would be blasphemy to some.

  6. MNb says

    The two cases from The Netherlands are quite lame examples and fortunately Suriname, where I live, isn’t mentioned at all, despite it being as religious a country as the USA.

  7. baal says

    Would that folks understood privacy is more than watching out for Kafkaesque anti-blasphemy laws but they are an example of why you’d like your personal information not available to be held against you.

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