Pandemic has caused ‘unprecedented hostility towards the non-religious’, Humanists UK tells UN

10 March, 2021

Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré

In an intervention at the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK called upon all member states to recognise the harms the Covid-19 pandemic has caused to non-religious people around the world and to renew their commitment to freedom of religion or belief by repealing restrictions that disproportionately target minority belief groups.

In an intervention made by video, Humanists UK Public Affairs Manager Karen Wright stated, 

‘Persecution during the pandemic has taken many forms and in many cases, the non-religious have faced unsubstantiated blame for Covid-19. In Zimbabwe, the implementation of National Prayer Days by President Mnangagwa presented the pandemic as a warning for non-religious sinners of God. In Kenya, the Government placed religion over public health by hosting religious leaders to a national day of prayer immediately before banning public meetings, leading to further transmission of the virus. It has been reported that religious leaders continued to attribute the pandemic to punishment from God and continued with public services of worship, against Government directives.

‘Covid-19 has also worsened the situation for those living in states where blasphemy is a crime. In Iran, Covid restrictions have been used to target and further marginalise the non-religious and members of minority religious communities. In some cases, the banning of in-person meetings has also left non-religious people feeling further isolated. Members of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka, who are unable to publicly express their beliefs for fear of persecution, are instead forced to pray up to five times a day whilst they remain quarantined with their families.’

Earlier this month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief published a report which highlighted the vast global persecution faced by non-religious people, identifying particularly grave problems in many countries around the world.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

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Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.