Humanists present Freedom of Thought Report in the European Parliament

Humanists present Freedom of Thought Report in the European Parliament

Posted on the 06/12/18

The European Humanist Federation and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) presented the Freedom of Thought Report 2018, this year’s edition of the yearly status report prepared by the IHEU.

The report documents the discriminations faced by people around the world because of their non-religious beliefs. It covers every independent country in the world and looks at issues like how freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression and association are respected in law and in practice.

The event was hosted by MEPs Sophie In’t Veld and Virginie Rozière who welcomed a panel of speakers stemming from very different horizons. Together, they shed light on the many discriminations that non-believers, free thinkers and humanists face across the world today.

Among the speakers, Bob Churchill, Communications Director at the IHEU and main editor of the report provided an overview of the many persecutions, discriminations death and jail sentences endured by many non-believers in a number of countries. He emphasized the 19 countries in the world that brutally repress the expression of humanist values. He called the attention of the audience on the fact that 6 countries in the world punish apostasy with prison sentences and 12 others 12 with death. He added that 71 countries punish blasphemy, out of which 7 with a death sentence. Moreover, in 34 countries in the world, law is partly or entirely derived from religion and in 30 countries in the world, it is difficult or illegal to run a humanist organization.

Jan Figel, Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) outside the EU, reminded the audience that Freedom of Religion or Belief includes the freedom not to believe or to change one’s religion. He also explained his view that the level of respect for Freedom of Religion or Belief in a country is a test for the level of democracy in general, as FoRB encompasses many fundamentals such as freedom of expression or freedom of assembly. He also emphasized that in his view instead of a confrontative approach with countries violating FoRB, a more encouraging approach should be adopted with those where change is happening.

The highlight of the event however was the testimonies provided by two atheist activists who fled their countries because of death threats from Islamists.

Karrar Hamza Al Asfoor, an Iraqi atheist activist who manages one of the largest atheist Facebook groups of his country told about the doubts he experienced since early childhood about the contradictions of his family’s faith, Islam. He explained that relinquishing his faith and how this cost him his entire social life. He became a known activist managing large atheist, feminist and pro-LGBT Facebook groups in Irak. After having fled to Greece, he is struggling against Islamist attempts to shut down his atheist Facebook groups arguing that the fact that most people in these groups – understandably – use fake identities,  violates Facebook’s terms of services. Many groups have already been shut down in this way

His contributions were complemented by Nacer Amari, a Tunisian human rights activist, Co-Founder of United Atheists of Europe and Prometheus Europe. Mr. Amari explained that despite a reputation of being quite secularized Tunisia still has a blasphemy law, there still is a state religion declared in Article 1 of the Constitution and public office can be held only by Muslims. Many other examples exist.

The panel was concluded by Giulio Ercolessi, President of the European Humanist Federation who called for breaking the populist and extremist views that see all those coming to our countries as necessarily opposite and different from us. On the contrary, he emphasized that many who come to Europe appreciate our European open societies, our civic values and our rule of law more than populist politicians.

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