BHA at the UN Human Rights Council: ‘End state-sanctioned persecution of humanists in Bangladesh’

24 June, 2015

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has called for the end to the persecution of humanists and religious non-conformists in Bangladesh as part of the 29th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

In 2013, 100,000 protestors took to the streets of Dhaka, calling for the prosecution and death of bloggers who ‘insulted Islam’, providing a list of 84 humanist activists to the government of Bangladesh – an effective ‘hit list’. In response, Bangladesh enacted a de-facto blasphemy law, criminalising ‘defamation of religion’, which, according to the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) Freedom of Thought Report 2014 has been used in practice to prosecute and imprison humanists and secularists.

Additionally, violent vigilantism has increased in the first half of this year; three humanist bloggers were murdered by machete wielding Islamists in as many months, for expressing views critical of radical Islam.

In a speech to the assembled nations of the UNHRC, BHA delegate, Cordelia Tucker O’Sullivan criticised the government of Bangladesh, arguing that the aforementioned laws concerning freedom of religion or belief and free expression amount to ‘state sanctioned persecution of freethinkers and minority belief groups’, violating articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Ms Tucker O’Sullivan also pointed out that ‘the persecution of non-believers is not limited to Bangladesh’, with IHEU reporting in their Freedom of Thought Report 2014 that ‘blasphemy’ or ‘offending religious feelings’ is still a crime in 55 countries, 13 of which punish atheism or apostasy by death.

The Oxford Declaration on Freedom of Thought and Expression was restated by Ms Tucker O’Sullivan, who said: ‘freedom of thought and expression “have proved the most essential conditions for human flourishing”.’

In concluding, she urged UNHRC member states to exert pressure on Bangladesh to reform its legal code and practice in order to ‘preserve these fundamental human rights, and to protect its freethinking citizens from escalating violent vigilantism.’


For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns 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 ethically 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 of belief.