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Humanists UK calls for states with death penalty for blasphemy to follow Sudan’s lead

In its latest intervention at the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK has commended Sudan for abolishing the death penalty for apostasy earlier this year, and called on other countries with the death penalty for apostasy or blasphemy to do likewise. However, Humanists UK has also called on Sudan to go further and decriminalise apostasy entirely, and to enhance women’s rights.

In an intervention made by video during the ‘interactive dialogue’ with the UN’s Independent Expert on Sudan, Humanists UK’s Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented:

‘The transitional Government’s commitment to creating a secular constitution has been a significant step in realising [the right to freedom of religion or belief]. Further reforms, including ending the use of public flogging as a form of punishment, and allowing non-Muslims to consume alcohol, have mitigated some of the most extreme aspects of the Shari’a Law-influenced criminal justice system.

‘Sudan has shown that even in a conservative religious country, and in the face of opposition from Islamist extremists, the protection of religion or belief is possible. We hope that the repeal of the death penalty for apostasy will inspire the Governments of Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the UAE, and Yemen to do likewise.’

However, she also asked ‘what more can be done… to ensure that apostasy and “religious insult” are both fully decriminalised and that Sudan signs up to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women?’

Notes:

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

Read the intervention.

Watch the intervention. 

Read Humanists UK’s previous statement on Sudan abolishing the death penalty for apostasy.

Read more about our work on 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.

Humanists UK challenges religious persecution in Turkey

Humanists UK has challenged discrimination against and the persecution of religion or belief minorities, in its latest intervention at the UN Human Rights Council. In particular, Humanists UK raised Turkey’s blasphemy laws, and its faith-based religious education system.

In a video intervention during the universal periodic review of Turkey, Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘We wish to raise concerns about the increasing normalisation of hate speech and discriminatory statements in the public discourse in Turkey. This is leading to discrimination towards religious or belief minorities and undermining long-held secular principles, as well as freedom of expression and social liberties.

We are concerned that such discriminatory attitudes are being perpetuated within Turkey’s education system, where religious education is predominantly taught from the perspective of Sunni Hanefi Islam. Such classes are compulsory and when students opt out, both they and their parents are required to reveal their religion or belief publicly. We ask the Turkish Ministry of Education to make faith-based religious education an elective rather than compulsory subject. We also recommend that the topic of evolution is restored to the school curriculum after its removal from textbooks in 2017.

‘Although freedom of expression is theoretically protected by the current constitution, it is increasingly undermined in practice. Article 216 of the penal code outlaws blasphemy, which is punishable by a prison sentence. There is also Government pressure to reform the constitution. We call on Turkey to instead repeal its blasphemy law, in order to protect freedom of religion or belief, and to prioritise investigating hate crimes towards religion or belief minorities.’

Last week, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson made another intervention, focusing on the persecution of Uighurs in China.

Notes:

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

Read the intervention.

Watch the intervention.

Read more about our work on 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.

Plight of Nigerian humanist Mubarak Bala raised in Parliament

Nigerian Humanist Association President Mubarak Bala.

The plight of Nigerian Humanist Association President Mubarak Bala, who has now been held for five months without charge for alleged blasphemy, was raised in the UK Parliament today by the Labour front bench, with the UK Government concurring with the opposition about the severity of the case, and committing to do everything possible to secure his release.

Mubarak Bala was arrested at his home in April for an allegedly blasphemous Facebook post, and hasn’t been heard from since. Last week Humanists International summarised the case thus:

‘Bala has now been held without charge for 140 days in contravention of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; There has been no official confirmation of Bala’s whereabouts; Court hearings have been subjected to repeated adjournments owing to the absence of members of the prosecutorial team; Kano State Police Commissioner has refused to comply with an order issued by the court requiring the police to grant Bala access to his legal representatives.’

In May, Foreign Office minister James Duddridge MP raised Bala’s case with the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, following meetings other ministers in his department had had with Humanists UK. In July, eleven United Nations experts, including six special rapporteurs, issued a joint call for the Nigerian Government to immediately release him. In August, they were joined by the Nigerian nobel laureate and Humanists UK patron, Wole Soyinka.

Now Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Lord Collins of Highbury, who is also a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, has raised the case in the Lords, saying:

‘My Lords, can I ask the noble Lord, the minister about another individual case, which is Mubarak Bala, President of the Nigerian Humanist Association, who’s been held on blasphemy charges since April. He’s not had access to a lawyer, nor had family visits since he was first arrested. I know the noble Lord is aware of this case, because it was raised at a ministerial level back in May or June, but can I ask him now, what steps is he taking to ensure that Mubarak Bala is given access to his legal team? If there is to be any justice at all, his arbitrary detention of 87 [in fact now 146] days without charge must end.’

Responding, Foreign Office Human Rights Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said:

‘My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, and we continue to make representations. It’s a case I’m fully aware of and we’ll continue to make sure that he gets the access the noble Lord mentions.’

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

‘We thank the UK Government for committing to make further representations on Mubarak Bala’s behalf, and the Labour front bench for raising this matter.

‘Bala has now been held without charge for almost five months, for a crime that shouldn’t even be illegal to start with. He has not been heard from since he was first imprisoned. We urge the Nigerian Government to release him without further delay, or at the very least give him access to his family and lawyers.’

Notes:

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

Read more about our work on 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.

Humanists UK and British Muslims for Secular Democracy speak out at UN against Chinese persecution of Uighurs

Humanists UK and British Muslims for Secular Democracy have made a joint intervention today at the UN Human Rights Council, in which they have spoken out against the Chinese persecution of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Province, and asked if the reports of mass imprisonment and horrendous human rights abuses meet the legal definition of genocide.

The intervention was made by video by Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, during the plenary Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances. In his comments, he said:

‘The United Nations human rights programme, of which this Council is is a key part, arose out of the abuses of the Second World War and the Holocaust with a singular commitment: that never again should we see the mass internment of, or attempts to a eradicate, a group of people on the basis of their ethnicity or religion.

‘And yet, there have been reports of Uighurs being blindfolded, forced on to trains, imprisoned, shaved, denied the right to practice their religion, and subjected to forced abortions and sterilisations, among many more examples of abuses. It is estimated that up to one million Uighur people are currently interned in camps across the region.

‘There can be no claim of national security or sovereignty to justify such treatment, and it is unacceptable that China has denied the Working Group access to these facilities despite requests being issued every year since 2014. I ask the Working Group what further steps can be taken to inspect and report on the internments in Xinjiang in the face of China’s continued refusal to engage with this Council, and does the Working Group take a view on whether such treatment meets the legal definition of genocide?’

Last month, Andrew joined over 75 faith leaders in issuing a united call for China to end all such persecution.

Notes:

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

Read the intervention.

Watch the intervention.

Read more about our work on 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.

Humanists UK welcomes launch of UK FoRB Forum

Today sees the first meeting of the UK FoRB Forum, a new civil society body established to uphold freedom of religion or belief all around the globe. Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson is on the steering group of the Forum, and has today welcomed its launch.

Humanists UK works through Parliament and with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to see the UK Government champion freedom of religion or belief around the globe. It particularly focuses on persecution of the non-religious, and the need to repeal blasphemy and apostasy laws which are commonly the cause of that persecution. It is a member of Humanists International, which leads such efforts at the UN and other global bodies, publishes the annual Freedom of Thought Report on discrimination against the non-religious, and coordinates the End Blasphemy Laws campaign.

In a new video published to mark the launch, Andrew Copson comments:

‘For me, freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief is about the freedom for us all to shape our own lives in accordance with our own developing values, convictions, beliefs, and opinions, without external constraints – apart from the rights and freedoms of others. We all want to be free to do this.

‘What Article 18 [of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] protects is the full diversity of human experience. It means that no-one can hold you back from that personal development. Not the law, not religious institutions or leaders, not your parents, and not the state. Every individual human being has the right to the development of their own religion or belief, thought, or opinion.

‘Humanists and other non-religious people around the world are discriminated against in a great number of ways today, ranging from the relatively mild – having their children shut out from access to state-funded schools, having their citizenship on a lower level than the citizenship of people with religious beliefs – to the very very severe. In some countries, to set up a humanist organisation is a crime. To declare yourself non-religious on any official forms is also unlawful. And in some countries, being non-religious – and specifically, often, leaving a religion to become non-religious – a protected human right of every human being in this world – can be punishable by death.

‘Humanists are not only interested in protecting the freedom of belief of non-religious people. Humanists have a commitment to the human rights and to the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief of all people. This universal nature of this freedom is an important part of the humanist commitment. That’s why humanists prefer to see these issues through the framework of human rights in the international treaties. That’s why Article 18, which guarantees freedom of religion or belief, is so important to humanists. And it’s not just important because humanists have a commitment to individual freedom. A humanist view of human life is also one that celebrates the rich diversity that human freedom leads to. Human freedom naturally leads to a diversity of thought and opinion. And a diversity of thought and opinion is one of the best ways to guarantee human progress. It’s also something beautiful in its own right, to be celebrated as far as the humanist is concerned.’

Notes:

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

Read more about the UK FoRB Forum.

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 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.

Humanists UK celebrates Organ Donation Week and new organ donation laws

Humanists UK is marking Organ Donation Week (7–13 September 2020) by celebrating the progress humanists have made in reforming organ donation laws across the UK. New ‘opt-out’ organ donation laws came into effect in England in May this year, following on from Wales in 2015 and Jersey in 2019.

Humanists UK has partnered with its patron, the broadcaster Jamie Theakston, and NHS Blood and Transplant to create new awareness videos about the new law in England, emphasising the humanist perspective on organ donation. Humanists UK will also be sharing stories and graphics highlighting the impact and the positive value of organ donation across its social media platforms.

In one of the videos, Jamie explains why he’s glad to learn of the change in the law, saying. He says:

‘As a humanist, I believe that we only get one life, and so we have to make it count. And I believe it’s equally important to support other people in making the most of their lives too.

‘As a humanist I believe that we can’t take our organs with us when we die… but even after they’ve stopped being of any use to us, being an organ donor means you can save or improve the lives of people on the waiting list for a transplant.

‘Organ donation is one of the easiest, kindest things you can ever do.’

The new organ donation law now presumes, based on strong polling evidence, that most people are happy to donate their organs after they die if this will help to save a life. Those with religious or other reasons for wanting to opt out of the organ donor register can do so on the NHS website. The family of the deceased can also raise an objection to donation if they know of undeclared wishes.

In Wales, where opt-out organ donation was introduced in 2015, the new system is thought to have boosted consent rates for organ donation from 58% to 75%.

A similar system will come into effect in Scotland in March 2021, and in Guernsey following a formal ordinance to activate legislation which came into effect this May.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Rachel Taggart-Ryan at rachel@humanism.org.uk or phone 07951 176 245.

See the Humanists UK organ donation information page.

Read everything you need to know about the new organ donation law.

Download your own NHS humanist donor card.

Read more about our work on organ donation.

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.

Little Book of Humanism is a Sunday Times bestseller

A brand new book by Humanists UK President, Alice Roberts and Chief Executive, Andrew Copson has topped the book sales charts in its first week to become a Sunday Times bestseller.  

The Little Book of Humanism, published on 27 August, shares over two thousand years of humanist wisdom through an uplifting collection of illustrations, stories, quotes, and meditations on how to live an ethical and fulfilling life, grounded in reason and humanity. The book quotes everyone from ancient philosophers like Epicurus and Mencius, through to contemporary humanist sources of inspiration such as Frozen and The Good Place actor Kristen Bell, the novelists Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood, and the playwright and poet Wole Soyinka.

Even ahead of publication, the book experienced strong pre-sales and was already onto a third print run on its publication day. On Sunday it will debut in the number ten slot on The Sunday Times Bestsellers List, the oldest and most influential book sales chart in the UK. As well as originally selling out on Amazon, Waterstones, and the popular, independent bookshop platform Hive, the The Little Book of Humanism topped the Amazon bestseller charts and has consistently featured in the top 30 since its publication. It is currently the number one bestseller on Amazon in both the ‘Ethics and Morality’ and ‘Religion and Science’ charts, and is also the number one bestselling title on Hive. Spotlighting its universal appeal and its popularity amongst a wider audience, The Little Book of Humanism is also currently number 14 in the ‘Self Help’ chart.

Patrons of Humanists UK have praised the book with Richard Dawkins describing it as a ‘compendium of uplifting quotations’ and likening gifting it to giving a ‘bunch of flowers to someone you love.’ Describing The Little Book of Humanism as a ‘gem’, Professor Jim Al-Khalili commented that it is ‘gorgeous and full of wise quotes and stories that we would all do well to heed in today’s crazy world.’

Speaking on the overwhelming success of the book, authors Andrew Copson and Alice Roberts commented: ‘It’s fantastic to see how well The Little Book of Humanism has done in just its first week and we can’t wait to see how far it goes, particularly now it is has been listed as a Sunday Times bestseller! We’re overwhelmed by the amazing feedback we’ve received so far and excited to see that humanism is reaching new audiences as a result of the book’s publication. We hope that it will have a positive and lasting impact on people’s lives’.

The book can be purchased from Waterstones, Amazon, Hive, Blackwell’s, and all good bookshops, with both hardback and eBook available at £7.99 RRP. It is published by Piatkus Books, an imprint of Little, Brown. Author royalties from the book go towards supporting the work of Humanists UK.

About the authors

Professor Alice Roberts is a writer, broadcaster, and President of Humanists UK. She is the bestselling author of eight popular science books including Evolution: The Human Story, The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being and Tamed: Ten Species that Changed Our World. Making her television debut on Time Team in 2001, she has become one of Britain’s best-known broadcasters and has written and presented a huge range of television series for BBC2, BBC4 and Channel 4, including The Incredible Human Journey, Origins of Us and Ice Age Giants, and several Horizon programmes. Her humanist ‘mini-sermons’ on Twitter have been liked and shared many thousands of times.

Andrew Copson is the Chief Executive of Humanists UK and President of Humanists International. He has provided a humanist voice on many television and radio programmes and written on humanism for publications including The Economist, New Statesman, Guardian, Prospect, The Times and Buzzfeed. With AC Grayling, he edited the Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism. He is also the author of Secularism: A Very Short Introduction.

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.

Listen to Professor Alice Roberts discussing the book and the humanist view of life on BBC4’s  Sunday programme.

Read an interview about the book and humanism more generally with Professor Alice Roberts in The Guardian.

Read a comment piece about the book published by Professor Alice Roberts in Tuesday’s Scotsman.

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.

Scotland to enshrine UN Convention on Children’s Rights into law

Humanists UK has welcomed the news that the Scottish Government will put the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) directly into enforceable legislation before the May 2021 elections.

A plan to strengthen children’s rights in Scotland by ‘[incorporating] the Convention into law to the maximum extent possible within the powers of the Scottish Parliament’ was initially unveiled in November 2019. Now, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that a Bill making the necessary changes will be introduced before the end of the parliamentary term next year.

The European Convention on Human Rights is enforceable in UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998. But UN treaties are not enforceable in domestic courts, meaning that although the UK has signed up to the treaties, some of the provisions they contain are not legal protections that citizens can actually access. This gap between international and domestically enforceable law is most significant with respect to the UNCRC and its specific provisions for children. These include the right to education, and the child’s own right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which is distinct from that of their parents.

Scotland and Wales have previously passed legislation requiring ministers to have regard to the UNCRC when making policy, and in England the Children’s Commissioner is required to have regard to and monitor the implementation of the Convention. But Scotland will be the first country in the UK to make it fully legally enforceable. This is despite the fact that full incorporation has been specifically recommended by the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Children’s Commissioners for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and is a step that has been taken by many other countries already.

Humanists UK’s sister charity, Humanist Society Scotland, has been part of the campaign that led to this change.

Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland commented:

‘We believe that human rights are something that you are born with, not something that is earned with age, and the incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law is essential if we want to create a Scotland that values its citizens at every age and stage in life. We are keen to see the Bill trigger a long overdue shift in Scotland’s public schools that would end the compulsory attendance of pupils at Religious Observance sessions. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child highlighted in 2016 that the current system that doesn’t allow pupils to opt out of religious observance was not in keeping with Convention Rights. We hope that this is rectified as swiftly as possible after the Incorporation Bill is passed.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘By making the UNCRC directly legally enforceable, this Bill represents a laudable step in realising the rights of children and young people across Scotland.

‘Sadly, progress in this area has not been so positive elsewhere in the UK. And, all too often, the rights of children are treated as an afterthought or as secondary to those of their parents. This is particularly the case with respect to freedom of religion or belief, with children subject to practices such as compulsory collective worship and religious instruction irrespective of their own developing views on the matter.

‘Regardless of where they live, children should be entitled to the same fundamental rights and to have their best interests protected. We therefore call on the governments of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to follow Scotland’s lead by incorporating the UNCRC across the UK.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager at ruth@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read our most recent article on children’s rights in Wales.

Read more about our work on strengthening children’s rights.

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.

Little Book of Humanism offers universal lessons on finding meaning, purpose, and joy

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A timely new book by Humanists UK President Alice Roberts and Chief Executive Andrew Copson is to offer universal lessons on finding meaning, purpose, and joy in our ever more uncertain world.

The Little Book of Humanism, published on 27 August, shares over two thousand years of humanist wisdom through an uplifting collection of illustrations, stories, quotes, and meditations on how to live an ethical and fulfilling life, grounded in reason and humanity. The book quotes everyone from ancient philosophers like Epicurus and Mencius, through to contemporary humanist sources of inspiration such as Frozen and The Good Place actor Kristen Bell, the novelists Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood, and the playwright and poet Wole Soyinka.

It examines how humanity came to be, our unique place in the world, and why humanists reject religious explanations, before offering reflections on how to be good, how to live well, and how to think clearly. It emphasises the need to celebrate diversity and promote equality and why we should rely on science for the answers to many of life’s most important questions. Finally, it offers some particularly timely reflections on death and dealing with loss. It does all of this whilst drawing upon a cornucopia of humanist thought from many of the world’s greatest thinkers, accompanied by beautiful original illustrations.

Welcoming the publication of their book, authors Andrew Copson and Alice Roberts commented: ‘In the past, people were more likely to turn to religion during times of crisis than look to other sources of guidance. But there has always been an alternative – the humanist approach – and in today’s UK, where most people are now not religious, that alternative is more relevant than ever.  We hope this book offers timely sources of guidance, comfort, and inspiration, in a way that has a positive and lasting impact on people’s lives.’

The book can be purchased from Waterstones, Amazon, Blackwell’s, and all good bookshops, with both hardback and eBook available at £7.99 RRP. It is published by Piatkus Books, an imprint of Little, Brown. Author royalties from the book go towards supporting the work of Humanists UK.

About the authors

Professor Alice Roberts is a writer, broadcaster, and President of Humanists UK. She is the bestselling author of eight popular science books including Evolution: The Human Story, The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being and Tamed: Ten Species that Changed Our World. Making her television debut on Time Team in 2001, she has become one of Britain’s best-known broadcasters and has written and presented a huge range of television series for BBC2, BBC4 and Channel 4, including The Incredible Human Journey, Origins of Us and Ice Age Giants, and several Horizon programmes. Her humanist ‘mini-sermons’ on Twitter have been liked and shared many thousands of times.

Andrew Copson is the Chief Executive of Humanists UK and President of Humanists International. He has provided a humanist voice on many television and radio programmes and written on humanism for publications including The Economist, New Statesman, Guardian, Prospect, The Times and Buzzfeed. With AC Grayling, he edited the Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Humanism and his most recent book is Secularism: A Very Short Introduction.

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 a comment piece about the book published by Professor Alice Roberts in Tuesday’s Scotsman.

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.

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.

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