In the News: Freedom of Thought Report 2019 from Humanists International

Blasphemy laws exist in 69 countries, report finds, National Secular Society (NSS), 2019-11-13.

Sixty-nine countries have blasphemy laws and penalties have hardened in parts of the world in recent years, according to a report on the status and rights of the non-religious. The 2019 edition of the Freedom of Thought Report, from Humanists International, has found that blasphemy is punishable by death in six countries.

Eighteen countries outlaw ‘apostasy’ – leaving a religious tradition – and in 12 of them it is punishable by death. The report says people can effectively be put to death for expressing atheism in 13 countries.

The figures come despite the fact that blasphemy laws have been repealed in eight countries in the last five years. Six of these countries are in Europe. Legislation is also pending in Ireland, following a referendum vote to repeal its blasphemy law.

The worst offenders

The report identifies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as “perennial” prosecutors for blasphemy and says freedom of thought is particularly penalised by Islamic penal codes and sharia-influenced laws.

It notes that accused atheists suffer from ongoing imprisonment and extrajudicial violence in Pakistan – despite the high-profile release of Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy. It also notes that criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy law is often denounced as itself an act of blasphemy, meaning critics are at risk of condemnation and even assassination.

Humanists International

The organization Humanists International (formerly IHEU) prepares this report annually since 2013. It is a major, essential resource for understanding the current situation as regards freedom of conscience, and denials of that freedom, throughout the world. Unfortunately, the report’s coverage of blasphemy laws apparently does not include information countries which condemn so-called “Islamophobia” which is effectively a synonym for blasphemy against one particular religion, Islam.

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