Stronger action needed to protect cultural rights defenders from murder, Humanists UK tells UN

6 March, 2020

Humanists UK has called for stronger international legislation to protect cultural rights defenders, including humanist bloggers, poets and authors from blasphemy charges in Bangladesh and persecuted Christian groups in Pakistan in its intervention at the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

At the meeting on cultural rights, which are defined as human rights aimed at assuring the enjoyment of culture through things such as language and artistic production, Humanists UK’s representative Tallulah Gordon highlighted serious cases where people have been persecuted for trying to participate in their cultural rights.

She told the UN, ‘Across several countries, cultural rights defenders are routinely suppressed by accusations of blasphemy. In Bangladesh, where blasphemy is a de facto imprisonable offence, there is an ongoing campaign of murder against humanist bloggers, poets and authors. In 2015 alone, five bloggers were killed in the country including the humanist author and cultural rights defender Avijit Roy, killed publicly at a book fair. He described his writings as a means of building a society ‘based on reason, compassion, humanity, equality and science’.

She added: ‘Such a society cannot be realised until the rights to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of religion or belief, including for the non-religious, are fully recognised and protected by law. In countries such as Pakistan, blasphemy laws are being used particularly to target Christians and prevent the free practice of their religion.’

The case of Cheikh Ould Mohamed M’kheitir, a Mauritanian blogger who was released after five years on death row for apostasy after publishing a blog that spoke out against slavery and caste discrimination was also highlighted. After fleeing Mauritania with the support of the international humanist community, M’kheitir continues to face ongoing threats to his life from religious figures.

In her closing remarks, Ms Gordon asked the Special Rapporteur to consider commissioning a report with further investigation on the linkages between abuses of cultural rights and their defenders, and the freedom of religion or belief under blasphemy and apostasy laws.


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

Read the full intervention here.

Read our last news item from the UN meeting.

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