Ten patrons of Humanists UK have penned an open letter in the Guardian calling on the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, to repeal Spain’s oppressive blasphemy laws. This follows the detention of Spanish actor Willy Toledo in relation to the trial of three feminist protesters accused of insulting the Catholic Church.
The letter, headed by Humanists UK President Shappi Khorsandi, was signed by figures from the British entertainment world, including the actors David Baddiel and Eddie Marsan, comedians Sandi Toksvig and Sara Pascoe, and the musician Frank Turner.
As actors, writers, comedians, and musicians, as well as patrons of Humanists UK, we were appalled to read in your pages (Spanish actor detained after ridiculing ‘God and the Virgin Mary’, 12 September) about the detention of our colleague, Spanish film actor Willy Toledo, in relation to the ongoing trial of three women accused of ‘blasphemy’ in Spain.
Spain is one of several western European countries that continue to proscribe blasphemy in law – an unconscionable violation of the right to freedom of thought, belief, and expression. As entertainers and as humanists, we cherish free expression and wish to see the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, take urgent action to repeal his country’s blasphemy laws.
At a time when many of the world’s most horrific regimes are using blasphemy laws to punish and persecute religious minorities and the non-religious alike, more and more democracies with blasphemy laws in statute are choosing to repeal these laws, including Denmark, Malta, Norway, Iceland, and France in the last three years. The governments of New Zealand, Canada, and Ireland have all started this process as well.
We ask the Prime Minister of Spain to show solidarity with the millions of people still persecuted around the world for their beliefs and opinions by looking to repeal, rather than enforce, Spain’s medieval restrictions on the right to think and speak freely.
Shappi Khorsandi, President of Humanists UK
Article 525 of the Spanish Civil Code makes ‘offend[ing] the feelings of members of a religious confession’ or ‘mak[ing] public derision… of their dogmas, beliefs, rituals, or ceremonies’ an offence, for which the cripplingly large penalty is a ‘fine between eight to twelve months of their salary.’
The international campaign
The letter draws attention to the successes of the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, which Humanists UK helped to found in 2015. Since then, five countries have abolished their blasphemy laws, and more are in the process of doing so. Voters in the Republic of Ireland will decide whether to repeal their constitutional prohibition on blasphemy in a referendum next month.
Humanists UK played a critical role in securing the repeal of blasphemy laws in England and Wales. Its section Northern Ireland Humanists and its partner Humanist Society Scotland are campaigning for the same in Northern Ireland and Scotland, respectively. It regularly uses its platform at the UN Human Rights Council to call out states which use their blasphemy laws to persecute the non-religious and religious minorities. It also provides asylum support to humanists in the UK fleeing threats to their life and safety overseas.
States like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who use blasphemy laws as justification for the execution of non-religious people, often cite the hypocrisy of European blasphemy laws, such as the Republic of Ireland’s, Spain’s, Northern Ireland’s, and Scotland’s, to defend their own. The new Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, recently announced he would revive a pan-Islamic world campaign to try and create a global prohibition on acts of blasphemy.
Show your support
If you want to support Humanists UK’s work to challenge blasphemy laws, in the UK and internationally, you can add your name to its campaign mailing list.
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07815 589636.
Read more about Humanists UK’s international campaign to end blasphemy laws: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/international-campaigns/
See a full list of Humanists UK’s patrons: https://humanism.org.uk/about/our-people/patrons/
At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.