Humanists at the UN call on Kazakhstan to protect the rights of the non-religious

19 March, 2015

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has called on Kazakhstan to review its domestic legislation regarding freedom of assembly, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression, as part of the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), an intergovernmental body composed of 47 states which is responsible for the promotion of human rights internationally.

In a speech to the members of the UNHRC, BHA delegate Amelia Cooper condemned Kazakhstan’s refusal to review its domestic legislation. Kazakh law restricts freedom of assembly, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression, something which is in conflict with its own constitution, as well as international law, and demonstrates a lack of commitment to its obligations as a Member of the Council.

In its statement, the BHA pointed out that though Kazakhstan has stated that ‘all religions received equal treatment and protection under the law’, the UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) found this to be untrue. Kazakhstan’s new criminal code outlaws ‘inciting social, national, clan, racial or religious discord’, ‘incitement to religious enmity’ and ‘insult to religious feelings’. It can be used to restrict speech which threatens the status quo, including expressions of non-religious belief. The 2014 Freedom of Thought Report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) found that Kazakhstan is a place where non-religious people face severe institutionalised discrimination.

In its statement, the BHA highlighted Kazakhstan’s prosecution of Aleksandr Kharlamov in 2013, which it said demonstrated that state control took precedence over support for freedom of religion or belief. Kharlamov was arrested on a charge of ‘inciting religious discord’ for expressing his atheism and for being critical of religion, and was subsequently confined to a psychiatric hospital and detained in prison for five months. While released on bail, the case remains open, and Kharlamov faces up to seven years in prison.

Given these extensive restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the BHA urged Kazakhstan to adhere to its stated support for these human rights and to reconsider its refusal to review its laws.

The BHA is one of three humanist organisations with consultative status at the UNHRC, and works alongside IHEU and the Center for Inquiry there to promote human rights internationally and to challenge states which do not uphold their obligations under human rights treaties. As part of the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws, the BHA has used this session of the UNHRC to emphasise the harm of laws which criminalise religious insult and blasphemy around the world. On Tuesday, it called for assembly members to repeal their own blasphemy laws and to take action to explicitly ban incitement to violence and violence against anyone on the grounds of religion or belief.


For further comment or information contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal at or on 0773 843 5059.

Read the BHA intervention:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.