Non-religious continue to face severe persecution in 70 countries – new report

Humanists UK has welcomed the release of a new report which documents the persecution faced by humanists, atheists, and other non-religious people, including in 70 countries that have severe punishments for leaving a religion or expressing non-religious beliefs.

The 2019 Freedom of Thought Report by Humanists International, released today, finds that while eight countries have abolished ‘blasphemy’ laws in the past five years, around 70 others still retain such laws with prosecutions and penalties in some states harshening.

Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous places to be non-religious, with the death penalty, mob violence, incarceration, and extrajuidical violence being the norm against people who express non-religious views publicly or who leave Islam.

It also highlights the detoritation of human rights in countries including Brunei and Mauritania which have cracked down on ‘blasphemy’ and ‘apostasy’ in the past two years. Brunei’s new 2019 penal code renders blasphemy and apostasy, as well as other hudud crimes such as adultery and homosexuality, punishable by death. Mauritania introduced a mandatory death sentence for blasphemy and apostasy in April 2018.

In Italy and Spain, prosecutions against artists and protesters in recent years have increased. Indonesia, Iran, and India are also carrying out harsher crackdowns on people expressing their views.

Humanists International founded the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, of which Humanists UK is an active member. Since then, the campaign has succeeded in persuading Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Malta, France, New Zealand, Canada, and Greece to all repeal their blasphemy laws, with the Republic of Ireland and Spain committing to doing the same.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented: ‘The right to publicly express humanist views on science, rational thought, or even to challenge religious beliefs is a dangerous act in many countries, as this new report shows. While there has been progress in recent years of more countries abolishing blasphemy as a crime, we have seen a harsh crackdown on human rights across many countries where people still live in fear to express their thoughts. We continue to call on the UK and international governments to recognise the dangers humanists face internationally and commit to ensuring their protection.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Northern Ireland Humanists has been running a campaign to abolish its blasphemy laws. Read more here:

Read our news item on last year’s Freedom of Thought report:

Read more about our 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.