Last year, when Humanists International released its annual “Freedom of Thought Report” describing serious cases of discrimination and persecution against atheists around the world, the bottom line was that 69 countries still believed blasphemy was a crime. The death penalty applied in six of them. 18 countries punished apostasy (leaving religion), and 12 of those said it was a capital offense.
Today, they released a supplement to that report, looking at the treatment of openly non-religious people in eight specific countries: Colombia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka.
What is it like to be a Humanist in those countries, which have a range of responses to those who reject religion?
Instead of conducting a survey or evaluating national policies, they did something different here. They just asked their members who lived in those countries what things were like on the ground. Did they feel persecuted? Have they been censored? What would they say is the general perception of atheists? That may not be scientific, but it’s not inaccurate either. This approach is rather clever, given how tough it would be to get a more scientific assessment of the problem in these nations.
The 72-page report, which you can read in full here, can be summarized like this:
The eight countries have all enshrined the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and/or the right to freedoms of expression, association, and assembly in their Constitutions to some extent. However, in most cases these rights only exist in theory. There exists a range of legal barriers or contradictory provisions in the Constitutions, limiting the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
A lack of separation between state and religion is also a recurrent problem in the eight target countries, including the constitutionally secular countries India and Colombia. In all eight countries we see a privileging of one or some religions by the state, sometimes leading to discrimination in terms of access to public services or positions.
Humanists International also offers recommendations to officials in each country to fix these problems — that is, to help them live up to their own stated ideals. These are just a couple of the suggestions offered to leaders in India:
Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code, and any other policies and local laws that criminalise “blasphemy” or insult to religious sentiments, should be repealed.
The Indian government should not stifle criticism by placing undue restrictions on dissenter’s rights to freedom of expression, religion or belief, and association.
Ensure prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into the killings of rationalists to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice, including those who commissioned said crimes.
They’re specific and direct. None of the recommendations, for any country, involve granting special rights to non-religious people. It’s all about making sure atheists are treated equally under the law and that their beliefs don’t subject them to harassment or discrimination.
There’s no good reason these suggestions shouldn’t be implemented. The fact that they probably won’t be shows you just how much sway religion holds over the most powerful people in these countries.