Humanists UK calls for stronger legal rights for the non-religious in Iraq and Iran

13 March, 2020

Participants during the 20th session of the Human Rights Council. 6 July 2012. Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré

Humanists UK has called upon the Iranian and Iraqi Governments to officially recognise non-religious people in law, and to immediately repeal their blasphemy and apostasy laws which are used to persecute religious and non-religious minorities, in two interventions at the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Speaking as part of the Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Iraq, Humanists UK’s representative Tallulah Gordon said, ‘the Iraqi constitution only recognises the right to freedom of religion or belief of a select few religious groups, failing to recognise the non-religious. For some minorities, such as those of the Baha’i faith, religious practice is forbidden by law. This is clearly in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which declares that states must protect the right of their religious or non-religious minorities to freely practise their religion or belief.’

She continued, ‘We call on Iraq to fulfil its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to protect the right of religious and non-religious minorities to freedom of religion or belief, including by repealing its blasphemy law.’

Ms Gordon highlighted similar concerns to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, stating, ‘the Iranian Government periodically uses the charge of “enmity against God” to jail and execute non-religious people and other religious and political dissenters. This is despite the UN Human Rights Council putting forward Resolution 36/17 in 2017, which demands an end to the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy. Exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, as enshrined by the UDHR, should not be regarded as a crime at all, let alone one that is punishable by death.’

She questioned the Special Rapporteur on what steps he has taken to ensure Iran’s compliance with the UDHR and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with regards to the moratorium on criminalisation of blasphemy.

Humanists UK also submitted written statements into the universal periodic reviews of Iran and Egypt.

Humanists UK is a founding member of the End Blasphemy Laws coalition and works to remove blasphemy laws worldwide.


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

Read Humanists UK’s  intervention at the UN on Iraq here and on Iran here.

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.