Join Donate

UN experts call for urgent release of Nigerian humanist Mubarak Bala

UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed led the call.

Eleven United Nations experts, including six special rapporteurs, have come together to call for the Nigerian Government to immediately release the President of the Nigerian Humanist Association, Mubarak Bala, from jail. Bala has been in detention for the last 87 days, after being accused of blasphemy, which carries the death sentence. He has not been charged, and has been denied access to his lawyers. Humanists UK has welcomed the experts’ call.

The call is made jointly by Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; the five members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It follows a previous letter they wrote to the Nigerian Government about the matter in May, which was ignored, prompting this public action.

In today’s call, the experts say:

‘We are deeply concerned over the serious lack of due process in Mr Bala’s case. He has reportedly not had access to a lawyer nor been allowed family visits and has been transferred and detained in Kano state, without charge, since his arrest in neighbouring Kaduna on 28 April 2020.

‘The arrest and detention of Mr. Bala amounts to persecution of non-believers in Nigeria. We are concerned that he may be prosecuted under anti-blasphemy laws that provide for capital punishment in Nigeria. The application of the death penalty for alleged “blasphemy” is a flagrant violation of Nigeria’s international human rights law obligations.

‘We are also gravely concerned about Mr. Bala’s safety, while in detention, in light of the death threats against him, and further fear that he may be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment due to his atheistic beliefs… No one should be arbitrarily detained or arrested for expressing peacefully their opinion, thought and conscience or for simply being an atheist.’

Separately it has been reported today by Humanists International that the Police Commissioner in Kano has been refusing to comply with a 16 July court order, which says that he should be granting Bala access to his legal team, on the basis that the order does not specifically instruct the police itself to comply.

Responding to this, Andrew Copson, who is Chief Executive of Humanists UK but who was commenting in his capacity as President of Humanists International, said:

‘The excuse from the police commissioner is ridiculous and his behaviour is lawless. The wording of the court’s order is clear. Mubarak Bala must be given access to his legal team. If there is to be any justice at all, his arbitrary detention of 87 days without charge must also end.’

Humanists International has been coordinating international efforts to free Mubarak Bala, and has produced a briefing and action paper. Humanists UK has today again raised Mubarak’s case with the UK Government, and urged it to again raise his plight with Nigeria. The Government previously did this after meeting with Andrew.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the United Nations’ press release about Mubarak Bala.

Read the letter the UN experts sent to Nigeria in May.

Humanists UK is a member of Humanists International, which coordinates the End Blasphemy Laws campaign and produces the annual Freedom of Thought Report on global persecution against the religious.

Read Humanists International’s statement today on Mubarak Bala.

Read our previous news item on Mubarak Bala.

Read more about our work on international freedom of religion or belief.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Global persecution of humanists continues to worsen, new report reveals

A new report published today by Humanists International has revealed worsening persecution of the non-religious in many parts of the globe. The report, which takes a detailed look at eight countries, finds ‘clear and growing evidence of the targeting of humanist and atheist activists on the basis of their rejection of a majority religion or their promotion of humanist values’.

The report is based on a survey of people in Colombia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, as well as detailed research into the legal, political, and social landscape in those countries. The countries studied were chosen because they are amongst those that were examined by the Bishop of Truro in his review into Christian persecution, that was commissioned by the Foreign Office last year. The new Humanists International report is also funded by the Foreign Office, but is independent from it.

The report identifies the growing use of blasphemy laws to crack down on the non-religious, as well as vigilante violence. It quotes humanists in Malaysia saying ‘humanists and non-religious people are regularly attacked by zealous Muslims’. In Pakistan, one person told the authors, ‘to be a humanist… you must have courage to lose everything.’ Another said ‘ humanists were, are being targeted in our society. Some humanists were killed by mob and some by local authorities.’ A third said ‘Blasphemy laws are in place which would legalize murdering me.’

It recommends repealing such laws wherever they are found, and that all state actors ensure that inclusive language is used whenever talking about freedom of religion or belief (as opposed to ‘religious freedom’).

In publishing the report, Humanists International Chief Executive Gary McLelland commented:

‘For too long humanists and other non-religious people have been invisible in the eyes of their own governments and international organisations. This report shines a light on the targeted violence, continued harassment and social discrimination faced by humanists in many countries and opens the door to conversations on how best to protect humanists worldwide. What is clear is that all laws and policies which criminalize “blasphemy” should be repealed.’

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘We welcome this report as shining a light on a profound and growing problem. In many parts of the world the non-religious are the most viciously persecuted minority. It is not even possible to be openly non-religious as that can lead to the most severe consequences. We hope that policymakers in the UK Foreign Office and all around the world will read this report and act to prevent such persecution, including by repealing blasphemy laws wherever they exist.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the report.

Read more about our work on international campaigns.

Humanists UK is a member of Humanists International, and the End Blasphemy Laws campaign that Humanists International coordinates.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Humanist national memorial ceremony

Humanists UK has broadcast a national memorial ceremony to mark three months since the start of the UK lockdown, to offer an opportunity to reflect on what we have been and are still going through, pay tribute to those we have lost, offer hope, and reckon with the grief, mourning, and anxiety so many of us have known these past three months.

The ceremony is now available to watch through Humanists UK’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

The 30-minute video has been released to mark a long and difficult period in which over 60,000 excess deaths have been recorded. The ceremony is presented by well-known faces like Joan Bakewell, Mark Gatiss, Alice Roberts, and Jim Al Khalili, but also includes frontline humanist community service workers including funeral celebrants, pastoral carers from NHS chaplaincy teams, and community volunteers from across the UK who have been working at capacity during this crisis. It also features music and a performance by the London Humanist Choir.

Millions of people in the UK each year draw comfort from humanist funerals and this ceremony is in that spirit. It is principally directed at non-religious people but it is hoped that it will give comfort to those of different beliefs and it is entirely inclusive in nature.

The ceremony was welcomed by Communities Minister Lord Greenhalgh, who commented:

‘Covid-19 is the biggest challenge the UK has faced in decades – and we are not alone. All over the world we are seeing the devastating impact of this disease. It threatens to take both our way of life and our loved ones from us.

‘Three months ago, today, our Government put in place strict social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus and help prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed, so that lives could be saved. We’ve seen so many communities, including humanists, support our neighbours and one another.  It is with thanks to the hard work and extraordinary sacrifice of the British people, we are slowing the spread of Covid-19.

‘And now as we begin to look forward, we look to rebuilding the UK with our roadmap to reopening that provides us with hope. We must also reflect on, and mourn the impacts this terrible pandemic has had, and the remember the lives we have lost.

‘I would like to thank everyone for the Nation’s efforts so far, and over the next months ahead.’

In the ceremony, Humanists UK President Alice Roberts says:

‘You might ask yourself what kind of meaning there is to be found in facing life’s unexpected difficulties. When anxiety, even grief and loss comes knocking on our door, and life comes to a halt. These are times when we look for strength in ourselves and place our hopes in other people.

‘You may feel cowed and beaten, levelled by loss, laid low with grief. It’s important to acknowledge that. But we’ve seen astonishing things, too. Selflessness, generosity, and bravery. Individuals placing others’ wellbeing above their own. Facing the challenges with such courage and dignity and compassion. We’ve also seen unprecedented international scientific cooperation. Competitors becoming collaborators. A glimpse of how productive we can be when we work together, not against each other. Humanity is laid bare by laid bare in a crisis like this, and there is so much goodness there.’

Humanist pastoral carer Lindsay van Dijk, who leads the NHS chaplaincy team in Buckinghamshire NHS Trust, in her contribution to the ceremony, talks about working in her role during the pandemic, and what it has been like to support people at this time:

‘What I have experienced is the tremendous amounts of love in the room when lives come to an end. We don’t always think about expressing our love to those around us during our “normal daily routines’” If we learn anything from this pandemic it is that life is precious and it is short; to experience it fully as much as we can and to do this with the ones we love – and to not wait until we come to the end of our lives to express how much they mean to us. Let’s say that we love them – today.’

Humanists UK celebrant Audrey Simmons reads words by Humanists UK Vice President AC Grayling in the ceremony. She says:

‘We never quite get over the sorrow caused by losing those most loved. We only learn to live with it, and to live despite it, which makes living a richer thing. That is sorrow’s gift, though we never covet it.’

And All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group Co-Chair Joan Bakewell, in her contribution, leads a moment of reflection, for quoting Humanists UK patron Sir Terry Pratchett as saying:

‘No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away, until the clock wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life is only the core of their actual existence.’

Michael Rosen, whose poem in tribute to the NHS is read in the ceremony by Mark Gatiss, paid his own tribute to health service workers:

‘The NHS has just saved my life, nursed me back to health and are now rehabilitating me to be able to walk and be strong. I will forever be a champion of the NHS.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: 

‘In every part of the UK, people have suffered enormously with the weight of lockdown. Humanists UK’s national memorial ceremony is designed to bring together people from all nations of the UK to remember the lives we have lost and acknowledge the sacrifices we have made. This is a ceremony anyone can access and like all humanist ceremonies, its format is inclusive of attendees and listeners from all walks of life.

‘A humanist ceremony is typically characterised by its personalisation and its uniqueness to the situation at hand. Here, humanist celebrants have risen to the challenge of applying that same craft and care to create a ceremony that can speak to the whole nation at a time of grief and difficulty.’

Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland commented:

‘Throughout the lockdown period humanist funerals have continued, but we realise that not everyone who would have liked to attend a loved one’s memorial has had the opportunity to do so. This initiative allows people from right across the UK to join together in a common act of remembrance via an online ceremony. It also reflects on the changes to all our lives and the challenges we continue to face.

‘The inclusive ceremony draws upon shared values that humanists hold in common such as compassion, love, and our common humanity.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3072.

Media are free to use any section of the ceremony on their own websites, so long as they attribute what they use to Humanists UK. Humanists UK has also made two short sections of the ceremony available as stand-alone files for media, namely Joan Bakewell quoting Terry Pratchett on death, and Mark Gatiss reading Michael Rosen’s tribute poem to the NHS that has just saved his life. We are also making available a composite image of four participants in the ceremony, namely Humanists UK celebrants Phil Walder and Audrey Simmons, Humanists UK President Alice Roberts, and Mark Gatiss.

Humanists are non-religious people who shape their own lives in the here and now, understanding the world through reason and science and living by a moral code based simply on empathy and compassion. Humanist ceremonies exist to meet the timeless human need to mark life’s turning points – such as deaths, births, and marriages – with an event involving others.

Even in physically distanced times, the essential human need for personal connection and to express and share grief remains undiminished. The National Memorial Ceremony is an attempt by humanists to help address this need among the non-religious community and the country at large.

This ceremony includes contributions from humanists across all four nations of the UK, and includes participants from Humanist Society Scotland, Wales Humanists, and Northern Ireland Humanists.

Humanist Society Scotland seeks to represent the views of people in Scotland who wish to lead ethical and fulfilling lives guided by reason, empathy and compassion. We provide a range of non-religious ceremonies and campaign for a secular state. HSS has over 15,000 members across Scotland.

Wales Humanists is a section of Humanists UK.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Jersey convenes ‘citizens’ jury’ on assisted dying

Jersey Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf has announced that the States of Jersey will convene a ‘citizens’ jury’ on assisted dying, to consider the issue in more detail and make independent recommendations for reform. Channel Islands Humanists has welcomed the announcement, which is a first for the UK and crown dependencies.

The proposal is for 12-24 citizens to meet over the spring/summer to consider the issues in detail, report later in the year, and the final recommendations be debated by the Jersey Assembly at the end of 2020. In the announcement, Deputy Renouf said:

‘I and other Ministers recognise that there are legitimate calls for our Assembly to consider the issue of assisted dying; but we also recognise that simply rehearsing the debates of our near neighbours is not satisfactory. We need to learn from their experiences and take a different approach to the assisted dying debate; we need to ensure that our Assembly, and other key stakeholders, have an in-depth understanding of our community’s response to the medical, ethical, legal and regulatory issues associated with assisted dying before we launch into debate.’

Welcoming the announcement, Channel Islands Humanists Chair Dave Crocker commented:

‘We’re delighted that the Jersey Ministers have committed to a citizens’ jury on assisted dying. It is vital that the law is changed to allow those who are of sound mind but are terminally ill or incurably suffering to have the right to end their lives in a time and manner of their choosing. Only such a change in the law would allow people the choice, dignity, and autonomy they deserve in their end of life choices. We know this is what most Jersey citizens want, so we hope the citizens’ jury will agree.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more about our work on assisted dying. 

Channel Islands Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

UK signs up to US-led ‘International Religious Freedom Alliance’

The White House. Image copyright Cezary p.

The United States has today announced a new ‘International Religious Freedom Alliance’. The UK has been announced as a member of the Alliance.

The ‘Declaration of Principles’ of the Alliance in some places uses religiously exclusive language (much as does the Alliance’s name), but in many places is inclusive of the non-religious. This includes, for example, that ‘The Alliance intends to advocate for freedom of religion or belief for all’, and that ‘Alliance members are committed to challenging persistent violations and abuses of the right to manifest one’s religion or belief, including… the use of blasphemy laws and the denial of registration to religious or non-religious groups…’

Some members of the Alliance include strong defenders of freedom of religion or belief, such as the Netherlands, but also countries with regressive human rights records, such as Brazil, Hungary, and Poland. Poland has also been announced as the host of the next Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, another US-established initiative.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘There is much to welcome in the Principles of the newly established Alliance, including explicit protection of the non-religious. We know the UK Government has long been a strong defender of freedom of religion or belief for all and we are delighted that that approach is reflected in these aspects of the statement.

‘We are concerned that some members of the Alliance do not have good track records on upholding human rights, and have in fact used so-called “religious freedom” as a justification for trampling on the rights and freedoms of others, including non-Christians, women, and LGBT people. It is also a shame that the Alliance’s name, in referring specifically to “Religious Freedom”, uses language exclusive of the non-religious – it is important to always use the term found in international human rights law of “freedom of religion or belief”. For many, this fact alone will undermine the credibility of the alliance.

‘We very much hope the UK Government will now encourage other members of the new Alliance to take a multilateral approach to human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, both domestically and in their own foreign policy work.’

Meanwhile in the House of Lords this morning, All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group member Lord Collins of Highbury (who is also Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development) raised similar issues in an oral question to the Government. Government minister Baroness Sugg replied affirming the UK Government’s commitment to freedom of religion or belief.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 020 7324 3072.

Read the US State Department’s press release.

Read the Declaration of Principles.

Read Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks.

Read the State Department’s wider remarks and Q&A.

Read more about our work on international issues.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Non-religious continue to face severe persecution in 70 countries – new report

In 70 countries there are blasphemy and apostasy laws.

Humanists UK has welcomed the release of a new report which documents the persecution faced by humanists, atheists, and other non-religious people, including in 70 countries that have severe punishments for leaving a religion or expressing non-religious beliefs.

The 2019 Freedom of Thought Report by Humanists International, released today, finds that while eight countries have abolished ‘blasphemy’ laws in the past five years, around 70 others still retain such laws with prosecutions and penalties in some states harshening.

Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous places to be non-religious, with the death penalty, mob violence, incarceration, and extrajuidical violence being the norm against people who express non-religious views publicly or who leave Islam.

It also highlights the deterioration of human rights in countries including Brunei and Mauritania which have cracked down on ‘blasphemy’ and ‘apostasy’ in the past two years. Brunei’s new 2019 penal code renders blasphemy and apostasy, as well as other hudud crimes such as adultery and homosexuality, punishable by death. Mauritania introduced a mandatory death sentence for blasphemy and apostasy in April 2018.

In Italy and Spain, prosecutions against artists and protesters in recent years have increased. Indonesia, Iran, and India are also carrying out harsher crackdowns on people expressing their views.

Humanists International founded the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, of which Humanists UK is an active member. Since then, the campaign has succeeded in persuading Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Malta, France, New Zealand, Canada, and Greece to all repeal their blasphemy laws, with the Republic of Ireland and Spain committing to doing the same.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented: ‘The right to publicly express humanist views on science, rational thought, or even to challenge religious beliefs is a dangerous act in many countries, as this new report shows. While there has been progress in recent years of more countries abolishing blasphemy as a crime, we have seen a harsh crackdown on human rights across many countries where people still live in fear to express their thoughts. We continue to call on the UK and international governments to recognise the dangers humanists face internationally and commit to ensuring their protection.’

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Northern Ireland Humanists has been running a campaign to abolish its blasphemy laws. Read more here: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/freedom-of-speech-and-expression/repealing-northern-irelands-blasphemy-laws/

Read our news item on last year’s Freedom of Thought report: https://humanism.org.uk/2018/10/29/discrimination-faced-by-non-religious-worldwide-at-alarming-levels-new-report-shows/

Read more about our international campaigns: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/international-campaigns/

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

‘Assemblies for All’: Humanists UK launches groundbreaking school resource hub

Schools wanting to deliver inclusive assemblies instead of compulsory religious worship can now access a groundbreaking new resource hub featuring hundreds of inclusive assemblies, after Humanists UK developed the first model of its kind for schools to roll out across the UK.

Assemblies for All comprises more than 200 high-quality, inclusive assemblies for Key Stages 1 to 5 across 30 diverse themes, none of which promote one particular religion or belief, making them suitable for all pupils regardless of their religious or non-religious background.

The assemblies cover diverse themes such as the environment, physical and mental health, arts and culture, and religious and secular holidays, and have been developed by a wide range of organisations including charities such as Unicef UK, Amnesty International, and WaterAid, the UK Parliament, the BBC, businesses, and many others.

Teachers are signposted to the assemblies on the website of the creator organisation, where they can easily download scripts, presentations, videos, and speaking notes they can use. Teachers can also explore a calendar of over 250 events and plan assemblies around key dates including holidays, festivals, and international awareness days.

The UK is the only country in the world to impose compulsory Christian worship as standard in its state schools. In an August poll of 1,500 British adults, respondents, including parents, ranked religious worship as the least appropriate activity out of 13 possible themes for school assemblies, with the environment, physical and mental health, arts and culture, and historical events among those ranked as more suitable.

In July Humanists UK announced it is supporting Lee and Lizanne Harris, two English parents who are taking a legal case to try to make schools provide a meaningful alternative of equal educational worth for those pupils withdrawn from collective worship.

Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘Schools are increasingly turning away from providing compulsory Christian worship despite it being required by the law, and instead want to replace it with inclusive assemblies which welcome all pupils regardless of their religious or non-religious background. Now teachers have a one-stop shop of high-quality, inclusive assemblies with hundreds of resources to draw upon.

‘We encourage teachers to make use of this great new hub so that they can offer truly inclusive and welcoming assemblies to their pupils.’

Religious Education teacher Lisa O’Connor said: ‘Assemblies for All is an invaluable teaching resource for those wanting to deliver high-quality, inclusive assemblies that are suitable for pupils from all backgrounds. These assemblies form a vital part of the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development of pupils but, up until now, teachers like me have either had to waste time searching for standalone resources or make their own.  I am very impressed by how user-friendly the site is in terms of grouping by age and theme. It will definitely be a boon to time-pressed educators.’

Lee and Lizanne Harris said: ‘We withdrew our children from assembly after discovering that they were being made to not only say prayers, but were also exposed to evangelical preachers who had some very harmful, divisive views. Ours is a state community school with no religious ethos so we were alarmed to see this level of religious interference creeping into our children’s education.

‘But until Assemblies for All was launched, there was no clear model of what the alternative to religious worship would look like. We very much hope many schools and teachers will adopt this excellent model of inclusive assemblies which will make all children feel included and welcome.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact the Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanism.org.uk or phone 0207 324 3000.

Visit the Assemblies for All website.

Read more on the collective worship poll.

Read more about the legal case on collective worship.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Humanists UK at UN calls for abolition of death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy

Humanists UK has urged all countries to abolish the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy at the 42th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Humanists UK’s representative Farah Mohammed told the UN, ‘Fourteen states still impose such punishments, including Pakistan where no evidence is required to prosecute a charge of blasphemy, and there are no penalties for making false allegations, and in two states in Malaysia where apostasy is an offence punishable by death.’

‘In light of such concerns we call upon member states to recognise that blasphemy and apostasy are actions whose very criminalisation violates freedom of expression, and freedom of religion or belief. We further call upon member states to continue to work towards the universal abolition of the death penalty.’

In welcoming a commitment from Malaysia to abolish the death penalty, Ms Mohammed reminded the UN that under Human Rights Council Resolution 36/17, that where still used capital pubishment should at least be restricted to only the most serious of crimes, and not to actions, such as blasphemy and apostasy, that should not be criminalised in the first instance.

Humanists UK is a member of the End Blasphemy Laws coalition.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read the intervention: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019-09-09-FM-Draft-Intervention-Item-3.pdf

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Humanists call for review into Christian persecution to be broadened to other groups

Alice Roberts leads the signatories for Humanists UK.

The global review into the persecution of Christians announced by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in December must be broadened to include other persecuted groups such as the non-religious, Humanists UK and Humanists International (newly renamed from the International Humanist and Ethical Union) have said today. The call comes in an open letter published in the Sunday Telegraph today, and follows on from a similar letter from three of the world’s leading experts on freedom of religion or belief which was published by the paper last week.

Today’s letter has been signed by Humanists UK President Alice Roberts, Vice Presidents Jim Al-Khalili, Shappi Khorsandi, and A C Grayling, and Humanists International President Andrew Copson. It reads:

It is correct to say that our country in recent years has a growing reputation as a principled advocate for the human right of religion or belief globally. If we want to keep that reputation, however, it is vital that the Government should not narrow the scope of that work.

Christians are persecuted in many countries – and their persecution must end – but so too are followers of every other religion. Also persecuted are humanists and other non-religious people: 30 countries have some form of the most serious or brutal persecution against the non-religious up to and including the death penalty. A further 56 have serious social or legal discrimination, such as forcing the non-religious to comply with ‘family law’ as controlled by religion, or mandatory religious instruction in schools with families unable to opt-out.

The Government’s present independent review of the persecution of Christians should either be broadened to include all violations of the human right to freedom of religion or belief or additional reviews into the plight of those groups should be commissioned – and that should include the non-religious.

The UK has one of the highest proportions of non-religious people in the world and our culture is a cradle of the modern humanist tradition. If our Government does not commit to standing with the nonreligious globally, as much as with all other victims of persecution, who will?

Around 30 countries have some form of the most serious or brutal persecution against the non-religious, up to and including the death penalty. A further 56 have serious social or legal discrimination, such as forcing the non-religious to comply with ‘family law’ as controlled by religion.

Threats to the freedom of the non-religious come from a wide range of sources, from individuals and groups wishing to censure freedom of thought, or criticism particularly of religion, through to powerful nations seeking to outlaw and criminalise any perceived negative discussion or criticism or portrayal of religion.

Last week UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed and the preeminent international human rights academics Nazila Ghanea and Sir Malcolm Evans similarly called for the review to be broadened, writing:

‘…couching this review even more broadly, and in the context of persecution against those of all religions and beliefs (including those of no religion), will greatly enhance its effectiveness internationally.

‘Seeking to protect some from persecution necessarily requires seeking to protect all from persecution. Upholding full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief (which includes the freedom of worship) would enhance its enjoyment by all, whether believer, non-believer or ambivalent.’

Notes:

For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read Humanists UK and Humanists International’s letter in the Sunday Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2019/02/17/lettersbritain-can-have-better-transport-without-wasting-money/

Read last week’s letter by international human rights academics: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2019/02/10/lettersremoving-backstop-wont-make-mays-deal-acceptable/

For more information about our international campaigns visit https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/international-campaigns/

Humanists International is the new name for the International Humanist and Ethical Union. The change happened on Friday this week.

About Humanists UK

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.

Humanist campaigner Gulalai Ismail re-arrested by Pakistani authorities

Gulalai Ismail with Crispin Blunt MP and Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, at Humanists UK’s fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference last October. She was first arrested upon returning from the Conference to Pakistan.

The leading Pakistani humanist and human rights campaigner Gulalai Ismail has been arrested for a second time. Gulalai was first arrested in October, after flying in to Pakistan from speaking at a Humanists UK event at the Conservative Party Conference. Shortly afterwards she was freed on bail but has now been re-arrested in Balochistan.

Gulalai is a Board member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and an award-winning Pakistani human rights defender. She is the co-founder and chairperson of Aware Girls, an organisation which works to empower and educate women and girls on rights and leadership in Pakistan, and chair of the Seeds of Peace network. She regularly speaks at home and abroad on peace-building in Pakistan and women’s empowerment.

Both her previous and latest arrests were due to activism with the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, which works for Pashtun human rights in Pakistan. Since her first arrest she has had her passport confiscated and been placed on the exit control list. Her latest arrest was along with at least 81 others whilst protesting the recent death of one of the Movement’s members, Arman Loni, who was allegedly killed by police.

IHEU President Andrew Copson has written today to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to call for Gulalai and others’ release:

‘The repeated arrests of Gulalai Ismail and fellow rights activists is a form of harassment, and a further violation of human rights against people who are already protesting rights abuses against Pashtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The disproportionate attacks on protesters do nothing to counter the fear that widespread human rights abuses continue to occur in these provinces.

‘For security services and officials to brand peaceful activists as “anti-state” is a sign of entrenched authoritarianism. Criticism of the army or the state as such is not at all identical with insurgence or sedition. Human beings have a right to peacefully protest mistreatment and abuses.

‘We call for the release of Gulalai Ismail, Abdullah Nangyal, Pashteen Idrees, and all protesters arrested in yesterday’s crackdown against peaceful protesters, and we call for a high-level investigation into the apparent killing of Arman Loni in another peaceful protest on Monday.’

Humanists UK will also today be raising the matter with the UK Government to ask what they can do to help support Gulalai.

More about Gulalai

Gulalai Ismail is the co-founder and chairperson of Aware Girls and chair of the Seeds of Peace network. Aware Girls aims to challenge the culture of violence and oppression of women in the rural Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area (north-west Pakistan). The Seeds of Peace network, founded in 2010, trains young people in human rights and political leadership, encouraging the participation of women in politics in Pakistan, and encouraging tolerance between religions and beliefs.

Gulalai is a recipient of the Fondation Chirac Peace Prize, and won the International Humanist of the Year Award 2014. She has also been awarded the Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy, the Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Democracy, and the Anna Politkovskaya Award.

In August 2017, she was elected by member organisations from around the world to the Board of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). She has previously been on the Executive Committee of the International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation, and a Board Member of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights. She also works for the Gender Working Group of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, and is a member of the Asian Democracy Network.

Notes:

For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or 07393 344293.

Read about Gulalai’s previous arrest: https://humanism.org.uk/2018/10/12/pakistani-humanist-campaigner-arrested-in-pakistan-on-return-from-humanists-uks-conservative-party-conference/

Read more about her current arrest on the IHEU website: https://iheu.org/gulalai-ismail-arrested-fellow-human-rights-activists-must-released/

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.

Humanists UK calls for BBC to ensure coverage of the non-religious

Broadcasting House. Source: Via

Humanists UK has responded to the BBC’s consultation on its draft Editorial Guidelines, calling for the BBC to increase its content about the non-religious, which is currently disproportionately low, and reduce the barriers that prevent fair criticism of religion.

In its submission, Humanists UK highlighted the lack of guidelines for non-religious coverage, which as a result, means that the non-religious remain underrepresented across BBC programming.

Humanists UK called for specific and equal inclusion of non-religious beliefs in the guidelines so that dedicated programmes can be made about and for humanists and the non-religious, thereby fulfilling the BBC’s obligation to do so under its own Charter, as well as under domestic and international human rights legislation.

Humanists UK also called on the BBC to take note of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and to amend the draft guidelines so that content which legitimately scrutinises religion can be made without undue barriers. Currently, any content dealing with matters of religion and likely to cause offence to those with religious views and beliefs must be editorially justified at higher levels within the BBC.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:  ‘It is vital that humanists are fully considered and represented in the BBC’s draft guidelines, and it is disappointing that so far the BBC has overlooked programming and content specifically about the majority of its licence fee payers, listeners, and viewers who are non-religious. We hope to see the BBC take note of our response, and update the editorial guidelines to create interesting and informative content that reflects the diversity of the UK today’.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read Humanists UK’s consultation response to the BBC in November 2018 here: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018-10-31-Humanists-UK-response-to-BBC-Editorial-Guidelines-consultation.pdf

To see the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines consultation document visit:  http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/howwework/accountability/consultations/editorial_guidelines_review_consultation_document.pdf

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on broadcasting rights for the non-religious: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/broadcasting/

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.

‘Tackling one of our society’s greatest problems’ — leading academic on religious schooling joins Humanists UK team

A leading UK academic specialising in the study of religious schools has joined Humanists UK to head up its national campaign to abolish them in the state sector, which she describes as ‘one of British society’s greatest problems today.’

Dr Ruth Wareham has been appointed as Humanists UK’s new Education Campaigns Manager to lead the campaign to end religious privileges and discrimination in the education system, particularly in the areas of curriculum, admissions, and employment.

Dr Wareham has studied religious schools for over a decade. Immediately prior to her new role, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Faith Schooling: Principles and Policies project based in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. Before that Ruth earned her PhD studying religious schools, and before that she was a classroom teacher.

Today’s announcement coincides with the launch of Humanists UK’s annual online fundraising campaign to raise money for Ruth’s salary. The fundraiser is at https://www.justgiving.com/nofaithschools.

On her appointment, Dr Ruth Wareham said:

‘I am motivated by the firm conviction — cultivated through my career as a teacher and academic researcher— in the importance of inclusive, nonpartisan education which fully respects the rights and interests of children to form their own religion or belief.

‘My research has led me to conclude that the problem of religious schools is one of the greatest problems in British life today.

‘For many decades, Humanists UK has led the way with its policy and campaigning work on these issues. I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to use my expertise to help build upon previous successes and drive this important work forward.’

Welcoming the appointment, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘We are very excited by Dr Wareham’s appointment which adds even greater weight to our vital work defending the rights of children, parents, carers, and teachers in our education system and working for a fairer society for all.

‘More than a third of all state schools in England and Wales – more than 7,000 schools – are run by religious organisations and this figure is growing.

‘These schools are legally entitled to discriminate against children on the basis of beliefs they are too young to confidently hold for themselves, and which serve to divide communities rather than bring them together. We need to foster a more inclusive, kinder future based on shared human values and that outcome depends greatly on what we teach students today.’

About Ruth

In 2018, Ruth was awarded a PhD in philosophy of education by the University of Birmingham for a thesis entitled: Prohibition, Accommodation or Transformation? A Philosophical Investigation into the Moral Permissibility of Faith Schools in Liberal Democratic Societies. From 2017 until taking up her Humanists UK appointment, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Faith Schooling: Principles and Policies project based in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. She has a variety of relevant academic research interests, including religious education, religious schooling, indoctrination, moral education, citizenship and liberal theory. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain.

Prior to moving into academia, Ruth trained as a primary school teacher and worked in schools in and around Birmingham and the West Midlands for six years.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 0781 55 89 636.

For more information about our education campaigns, visit https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/

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.

Search Humanists UK