Government urged to focus on global non-religious persecution

18 September, 2019

Photo credit: Adrien Taylor

Humanists UK has provided evidence of alarming cases of persecution faced by non-religious people around the globe, including accounts of humanists being murdered after they declared on their social media profiles to have no religious beliefs.

In its evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on the state of freedom of religion and belief globally, Humanists UK, which campaigns for the protection of non-religious people, has called for the UK Government to urgently focus more on the persecution they face.

Some 13 countries have the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy and many countries have seen high rates of non-religious people murdered. 40 more countries have prison sentences for blasphemy or apostasy, and 18 more have some other criminal restrictions, meaning 71 have some kind of criminalisation.

In its evidence Humanists UK highlights countries where non-religious people are at the highest risk. Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia saw the most vicious attacks on the non-religious.

The evidence includes countless examples of individuals who had been murdered or attacked for their beliefs in recent years. In 2017 Pakistani University student Mashal Khan was murdered by fellow students merely for referring to himself as a humanist on Facebook. He was shot in the head and then beaten to death by a large group of students. In Bangladesh, Nazimuddin Samad simply wrote ‘I have no religion’ on Facebook, and then was murdered by Islamists.

Humanists UK highlights the problem with the Government only carrying out a review into Christian persecution, adding ‘we are concerned that it has led to less of a focus on other religions and beliefs… we are also concerned about how this partiality of focus is perceived globally.’

It also called for the Government to take further steps to ensure that its language and agenda is inclusive of the non-religious and that the subject of non-religious persecution be raised in meetings with other governments.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: ‘Non-religious people are arguably the most viciously persecuted group in the world. Being openly non-religious is almost always impossible in countries with the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy, and in other countries non-religious people are murdered or tortured by extremists or face long prison sentences for simply expressing their human right to free expression. We urge the UK Government to take heed of our evidence and ensure that it does everything it can to challenge the persecution of the non-religious globally.’


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

Read Humanists UK’s evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Read our previous news item on a joint letter by global victims of persecution.

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.