Report: Atheist Discrimination Continues Worldwide
By David G. McAfee
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Tuesday released its 2013 Annual Report, which highlights the status of religious freedom globally and identifies those governments that are the most egregious violators and includes recognition of severe atheist discrimination in a number of countries.
The USCIRF, an independent federal advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor religious freedom abuses abroad, recommended that the U.S. government re-designate Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as “countries of particular concern.” USCIRF also said Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam also meet the CPC threshold and should be so designated.
The report pointed to atheist activist Alber Saber, who was convicted in December by an Egyptian court on extremism charges for his posting of online content that allegedly “insulted God and cast doubt on the books of the Abrahamic religions” and “denied the existence of God and his creation of mankind.” Saber was sentenced to three years in prison and, after his release on appeal, he fled the country in January, according to the report.
Also in Egypt, according to the report, a law exists that allegedly guarantees religious freedom for all Egyptian citizens. But the law, which guarantees “the freedom to practice religious rites and to establish places of worship for the divine religions, as regulated by law,” may exclude atheists and other minority religious groups, according to the USCIRF.
“[B]ecause this concept of religious expression is limited to followers of the ‘divine’ religions, followers of other religions, such as Baha’is, as well as atheists and agnostics, may be excluded from enjoying basic freedoms,” the report says.
In Indonesia, according to the report, both governmental action and societal violence led to the imprisonment of numerous individuals who were accused of “spreading atheism.” In February 2012, for instance, West Sumatra civil servant Alexander Aan was arrested on charges of blasphemy for starting a Facebook page advocating atheism.
A Sijunjung district court in West Sumatra gave him a two-year sentence for “incitement,” allegedly because a local extremist Islamic Defenders Front group attacked and beat Aan for his Facebook postings. Aan’s lawyers are attempting to take his case to the Supreme Court, according to the USCIRF’s report.
The USCIRF also reports that, in June 2012 in Turkey, an Istanbul court indicted Fazil Say, a pianist, composer and self-described atheist, on charges of “publicly insulting religious values that are adopted by a part of the nation.” Say’s trial resumes this month as he fights a potential penalty of up to 18 months in prison.
The American Humanist Association on Wednesday applauded the USCIRF’s recognition of atheist discrimination in its 2013 report. The AHA said it submitted a report last year with the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and other secular groups to USCIRF and the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom outlining examples of international discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists and the non-religious, such as the case of Saber of Egypt, who denied the existence of god and sentenced to three years in prison.
“The U.S. government is beginning to pay attention to all forms of religious discrimination around the world, including actions against the non-religious,” American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said Wednesday. “We are pleased that USCIRF is raising awareness that religious freedom includes standing up for nonbelievers.”
Leaders of the AHA will participate in a protest on May 2, outside the Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington, DC, to raise awareness of the persecution of several atheist bloggers who have been arrested due to the country’s strict blasphemy laws.