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Conservative Humanists and delegates hear from Bangladeshi blogger at Conference fringe event

Charley Jarrett, Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal, Viscount Ridley, and Arif Rahman.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has this week attended the annual Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, just as it has been attending other party conferences. The BHA exhibited at the event, and, with Conservative Humanists, held a special reception on the theme of international freedom of religion or belief, with particular focus on the ongoing persecution of humanist bloggers in Bangladesh.

One of the bloggers, Arif Rahman, spoke at the event, alongside BHA Patron and member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Viscount Matt Ridley, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, and Charley Jarrett of the Conservative Humanists group. Crispin Blunt MP, Vice Chair of the APPHG and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons, was also present.

Speaking first, Viscount Ridley emphasised the importance of international freedom of religion or belief, and the work done by groups like the BHA to speak up for the non-religious. He also talked about the BHA’s ongoing campaign to gain legal recognition in England and Wales for humanist marriages, and the need for the Government to stand up for marriage by granting such recognition. He talked about how in his view there is much commonality between Humanism and conservatism – particularly in their shared emphasis on freedom of belief and actions. He argued that just as conservatives are against big Government, so they should be against ‘big God’.

Following on, Andrew Copson pointed to conservative values such as freedom of the individual, of conscience, and of society, and the emphasis on individual rights and responsibilities, as showing fertile ground for Conservative Humanists to flourish. Andrew noted the commitment of the Conservative party in their manifesto to international freedom of religion or belief.

Next, Arif Rahman spoke about how, in spite of Bangladesh being founded as a secular state, there has been increasing encroachment on freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of speech, with the introduction of a new blasphemy law in 2013 and increasing indifference or even hostility towards the plight of non-religious bloggers from the Bangladeshi Government. Arif described how the persecution of the bloggers started, and spoke of his sadness as his friends Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Ananta Bijoy Das, and Niloy Neel were all hacked to death by Islamists this year. As well as speaking of the failures of the Bangladeshi Government to protect instead of blame and further persecute the bloggers, Arif also pointed to what he thought the UK Government should do to prevent radicalisation of the Bangladeshi community in the UK.

Finally, Charley Jarett emphasised the Conservative Party’s support for freedom of speech and an inclusive national identity, and the need to ensure the party works for all people, as this makes the party stronger. He emphasised that one third of Conservative voters and half of all conservatives are not religious, and so it is vital that those individuals have a strong voice in the party through Conservative Humanists.

The British Humanist Association also held fringe events and had stalls at the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party conferences, and has been attending the conferences of three other parties.

Notes

For further comment or information contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethically and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion of belief.

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