The British Humanist Association (BHA), in a joint statement with the Arab Humanists has spoken out against the human rights violations committed against humanists and the non-religious, and human rights defenders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia as part of the 32nd regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Citing comments made by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, namely, that ‘States cannot claim to uphold assembly and association rights when they criminalize freedom of religious (or irreligious) expression and thought’ a joint intervention was made by the BHA and Arab Humanists highlight violations of these rights in Egypt, where the state sponsored an anti-atheist hate campaign which started in 2014, has continued with two humanist activists, Sherif Gaber Abdelazim Bakr and Karim al-Banna, being arrested and sentenced to imprisonment in 2015. Both went into hiding following their trial. In addition, the past few months have seen numerous human rights defenders suffering legal penalties, including asset freezes and travel bans, under the auspices that they are ‘receiving illegal funding’ in order to cause ‘harm to the country’. The two organisations pointed out that in reality, these laws are being used to silence human rights defenders and political dissenters.
BHA representative Cordelia Tucker O’Sulivan went on to criticise Saudi Arabia for their treatment of religious minorities, including atheists and humanists, where it is a ‘criminal act of terrorism’ for an individual or association to call for atheist or humanist thought in any form. The close connection between state identity, the ruling royal family, and the religious establishment has led authorities to identify any deviation from the orthodox religious view as political dissidence, leading to several prolific imprisonments, including that of Raif Badawi, and his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair.
The statement concluded by calling on all states whose legal codes mandate and/or condone the persecution of political dissenters, human rights defenders, and religious and belief minorities to repeal the oppressive laws, and ensure that human rights and promoted in the respective countries.
Nourhan Nassar from the Arab Humanists commented, ‘The Arab world is constantly flagged as one of the regions with the highest levels of discrimination against and silencing of humanists, atheists, and the non-religious.
‘The restriction on the freedom to express or associate with ideas deemed blasphemous, immoral, or unacceptable by the state is one of the biggest obstacles in the way of tackling issues facing the Arab world, with regards to religious extremism, human rights, and advancing scientifically and economically. Acknowledging the problem and bringing attention to the violations committed by states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt is the first step in making progress and we will continue to work with the BHA at the United Nations to give a voice to those who are suffering injustices .’
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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 or belief.