Global persecution of humanists continues to worsen, new report reveals

25 June, 2020

A new report published today by Humanists International has revealed worsening persecution of the non-religious in many parts of the globe. The report, which takes a detailed look at eight countries, finds ‘clear and growing evidence of the targeting of humanist and atheist activists on the basis of their rejection of a majority religion or their promotion of humanist values’.

The report is based on a survey of people in Colombia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, as well as detailed research into the legal, political, and social landscape in those countries. The countries studied were chosen because they are amongst those that were examined by the Bishop of Truro in his review into Christian persecution, that was commissioned by the Foreign Office last year. The new Humanists International report is also funded by the Foreign Office, but is independent from it.

The report identifies the growing use of blasphemy laws to crack down on the non-religious, as well as vigilante violence. It quotes humanists in Malaysia saying ‘humanists and non-religious people are regularly attacked by zealous Muslims’. In Pakistan, one person told the authors, ‘to be a humanist… you must have courage to lose everything.’ Another said ‘ humanists were, are being targeted in our society. Some humanists were killed by mob and some by local authorities.’ A third said ‘Blasphemy laws are in place which would legalize murdering me.’

It recommends repealing such laws wherever they are found, and that all state actors ensure that inclusive language is used whenever talking about freedom of religion or belief (as opposed to ‘religious freedom’).

In publishing the report, Humanists International Chief Executive Gary McLelland commented:

‘For too long humanists and other non-religious people have been invisible in the eyes of their own governments and international organisations. This report shines a light on the targeted violence, continued harassment and social discrimination faced by humanists in many countries and opens the door to conversations on how best to protect humanists worldwide. What is clear is that all laws and policies which criminalize “blasphemy” should be repealed.’

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘We welcome this report as shining a light on a profound and growing problem. In many parts of the world the non-religious are the most viciously persecuted minority. It is not even possible to be openly non-religious as that can lead to the most severe consequences. We hope that policymakers in the UK Foreign Office and all around the world will read this report and act to prevent such persecution, including by repealing blasphemy laws wherever they exist.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the report.

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Humanists UK is a member of Humanists International, and the End Blasphemy Laws campaign that Humanists International coordinates.

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.