The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has released its annual “Freedom of Thought Report,” an “annual survey on discrimination and persecution against non-religious people in countries around the world.” This is fifth year of the report and the first time it’s entirely online.
At a time when Bangladeshi atheist bloggers are being slaughtered (or hiding for their lives), and outspoken critics of religion have to fear the wrath radical Muslim extremists, what can we learn from this year’s survey?
On the one hand, there are the atrocious violations of religious freedom rights in situations of intra-state conflict as in the case of the monstrous crimes committed by the Daesh in Syria and Iraq; the brutal attacks on the Rohingya in Myanmar; or the heinous activities of the Boko Haram in Nigeria. On the other hand, established democracies are also reporting rising levels of intolerance including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The outrage over the former and the shock over the latter often distract from the horror of the persistent violations of the human right to freedom of religion or belief in the numerous countries that suppress religious freedom either through blasphemy and apostasy laws or through other claims of privilege based on religion or belief.
Nearly 70 years after the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom from religion for all, blasphemy is outlawed in at least 59 countries punishable with a prison term or in some cases death. At least 36 countries continue to enforce their anti-blasphemy laws. There are laws against apostasy in 22 countries, and at least 13 countries provide for the use of the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy. While anyone can run afoul of these laws, and often there are allegations of the use of such laws for political purposes, these laws potentially automatically criminalize dissent and free-thinking, and victimize “non-believers”, humanists and atheists. What is even more shocking is the cruelty with which those who are accused of violating these laws are often punished– by state agents or by non-state actors, including neighbours and relatives.
You can look up the concerns in every country right here. Even the U.S. doesn’t have a perfect record; our page also includes a special section on President-elect Donald Trump. Because when he gets into power, he will likely bring Christians — and no one else — along for the ride.