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Man sentenced to death for apostasy as violence against non-religious across Islamic states continues

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has joined the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in calling for the Saudi government to pardon a mentally ill man sentenced to death for apostasy, as a surge in violent attacks on the non-religious across Islamic states claims three more lives.

Ahmad Al-Shamri, a 29-year-old Saudi national accused of making disparaging remarks about the Prophet Muhammad and Islam on Twitter in 2014, has been sentenced to death after his appeal against his conviction for ‘atheism and blasphemy’ was denied by the Appeals and Supreme Court in Saudi Arabia. According to reports, mitigating factors, such as Al-Shamri’s mental illness, were discounted and the trial focused primarily on Koranic law.

Saudi Arabia’s legal system is heavily influenced by the ‘Salafi’ interpretation of Islam. Under this interpretation, apostasy – choosing to convert from or leave Islam – is a crime punishable by execution, either by beheading or shooting. This judgment once again highlights the contempt in Saudi Arabia for human rights, and for freedom of thought and conscious, and follows a spate of brutal murders of humanists and liberals by extremist mobs in Islamic states.

Early in March, Masshal Khan, a student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Pakistan was savagely beaten to death with sticks by a gang of fellow students after being accused of posting ‘blasphemous’ remarks online. In the same month, H Farook, a 31 year-old Indian national was ruthlessly hacked to death by a gang for posting rationalistic views about religion on his social media accounts, and Yameen Rasheen, a secularist blogger was brutally stabbed to death in the Maldives. Rashmeen was well-known in the Maldives as a satirist who promoted the values of secularism and democracy.

Responding to these murders and the Al-Shamri death sentence, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We are deeply saddened by the deaths of Masshal Khan, H Farook, and Yameen Rasheen, and by the sentence passed upon Ahmad Al-Shamri. These brutal and organised murders are further confirmation that in several Islamic states there is a culture of impunity granted to Islamist vigilantes.  

‘We call upon the UK government to stand by bloggers, satirists, and all others who wish to freely express secularist or humanists viewpoints. Their rights to freedom of religion or belief, expression, and life are currently being ignored and negated.’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 7324 3072.

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘BHA and Arab Humanists join forces at UN to speak out against human rights violations committeed against the non-religious in Egypt and Saudi Arabia’:

Read more about the BHA’s work on freedom of religion and belief:

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.

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