The frequently violated right to atheism

Attacked, jailed, forced into exile -- atheists have hard lives, especially in Islamic countries. But freedom of thought and speech is also under threat in Europe.

Ingrid Colanicchia
Ingrid Colanicchia MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
The frequently violated right to atheism - NewsMavens
Photo by Steve Parkins/REX/Shutterstock (9312755k) English PEN and Reporters Without Borders hold a special lunchtime vigil outside the Saudi Embassy in London to mark three years since blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to ten years imprisonment

Why this story matters:

Ahmad Al-Shamri, Yameen Rasheed, Mashal Khan, Younous Shaykh, Raif Badawi: all of them were persecuted, tortured, jailed, killed or forced into exile in recent years because of their atheism. Their names will be unfamiliar to most readers -- European media does not usually bother with covering such cases beyond its own backyard.

It is true that most cases of atheist persecution occur in countries with an Islamic government or, to be more precise, in countries where a conservative view of Islam is deeply rooted in legal codes. But limitations on freedom of thought and speech are not limited to Iran, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia.

In Russia, Ruslan Sokolovsky was sentenced to three and a half years for playing Pokemon Go in a church. Viktor Krasnov could have been imprisoned for denying the existence of God on the internet (in the end he had to spend a month in a psychiatric hospital instead). In 2012, a young man was arrested in Greece and then sentenced to ten months in prison for mocking an Orthodox monk on Facebook. In Spain, less than two months ago, actor Willy Toledo was arrested for blasphemy.

Every year, the International Humanist and Ethical Union prepares a comprehensive report on such incidents. The latest edition reveals that Italy is now in the 159th place in the country index, immediately after Zimbabwe and before Sri Lanka. This 'enviable' position was achieved thanks to several issues: Catholic instruction in public schools, the Eight per Thousand tax law, public funding for Catholic schools and the overwhelming presence of the Catholic Church on television. And let us not forget that Italy is also among the countries who punish blasphemy. In short, there is a long way to go to reach Belgium, who tops the country ranking.

Details from the story:

  • Every year since 2012, the International Humanist and Ethical Union publishes a report on freedom of thought that provides evaluates discrimination against atheists. This year's edition is the first to contain a complete ranking of all the countries in the world.
  • The ten worst countries for atheists are, in order: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Maldives, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Mauritania, Malaysia, Sudan, Brunei.
  • The best ten: Belgium, Holland, Taiwan, Nauru, France, Japan, São Tomé and Príncipe, Norway, the USA, Saint Kitts and Nevis.
  • There are 71 countries in the world where there are legal provisions against blasphemy: in 18 the offense is punishable with a fine, in 46 by prison, and in 7 by the death sentence (Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Arabia Saudi Arabia and Somalia).
  • There are 18 countries that criminalize apostasy: in 6 the offense is punishable by prison (Bahrain, Brunei, Comoros, Gambia, Kuwait, Oman) and 12 by the death penalty (Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen). Furthermore, these 12 countries often consider blasphemy as proof of apostasy.
  • Italy is in 159th place, immediately after Zimbabwe and before Sri Lanka.
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