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Right to offend? Conservative humanists hear of the global battle against blasphemy laws

Crispin Blunt MP, Andrew Copson, and Gulalai Ismail.

Humanists UK and Conservative Humanists together held their biggest ever fringe at the Conservative Party Conference last night, discussing the urgent need to repeal laws that criminalise blasphemy and apostasy around the globe.

The packed event heard from Gulalai Ismail, founder of Pakistani women’s equality organisation Aware Girls and board member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union; Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group; and Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK and President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

Humanists UK has affiliated groups within the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Green parties. Andrew Copson spoke a fortnight ago at a Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats event on the global war against the non-religious at the Liberal Democrats conference, and last week Humanists UK and Labour Humanists co-hosted an event at the Labour Party conference on faith schools.

Andrew discussed the plight of humanists being persecuted around the globe. 13 countries punish blasphemy or apostasy with death, and around 80 have laws that criminalise blasphemy or apostasy in one way or another. Many countries are actively using such laws, and the problems are compounded by extrajudicial murders of humanists occurring in countries like Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

Gulalai, who herself has fended off repeated false accusations of blasphemy, death threats, and arrest charges, talked about the active persecution that humanists face in Pakistan. She referred to the case of Mashal Khan, who last year was murdered by fellow students at his university simply for referring to himself as a humanist on Facebook. There have also been several issues of individuals facing forced disappearances by the state.

Just this weekend, Gulalai was a co-signatory to a letter signed by 23 individuals accused of blasphemy, in twelve countries, advocating for the Republic of Ireland to vote to repeal its blasphemy law, in its upcoming referendum. Summarising her thoughts, Gulalai said that ‘freedom of thought, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression might seem like some fancy words to you. But they do not. They have power and you have the power to advocate against violence around the globe.’

Concluding, Crispin argued that ‘the torch of liberty is at the core of conservatism.’ Liberty and freedom are the most important values. Humanism shares those values and ensuring freedom of religion and belief around the globe is a vital part of that. Most people in the UK are now non-religious – but in other places this is not so. He commended the bravery of Gulalai for standing up for what she believes in.

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For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 07815 589636.

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.

There are humanist groups affiliated to Humanists UK in the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Green parties. In the UK Parliament, the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group brings together humanist MPs and peers from all parties to work together towards shared aims.

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