Humanists UK at UN calls for Iran to abolish the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy

18 March, 2022

Humanists UK has urged the UN to keep the pressure on Iran to abolish the use of the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy and to end its persecution of religious and non-religious minorities.

The intervention was made by video by Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann, as part of the UN Human Rights Council. During the ‘Interactive Dialogue’ with the Special Rapporteur on Iran, he said:

‘Iran remains one of the world’s most hostile states to the non-religious. In Humanists International’s 2021 Freedom of Thought Report, only Saudi Arabia ranks below Iran for violating the right of freedom of religion or belief. The non-religious are forced to live in total secrecy – under fear of arbitrary detention, torture, and execution if they were to be discovered.

‘Iran is one of only 13 countries that maintains the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that ‘in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes.’ In other words, not for blasphemy or apostasy – the criminalisation of which is a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief itself. In the last year Christians, Baha’is, and Sunni Baluchi citizens have been arrested as a result of the free practice of their faith. In 2020, executions in the four ethnic minority provinces increased by more than 20%.’

He went on to highlight the case of Swedish-Iranian researcher Dr Ahmadreza Djalali who was arrested and sentenced to death on false charges of espionage. Mr Cann called his case ‘exemplary of the persecution of international academics in Iran, who over the course of their stay are arrested and imprisoned on spurious charges.’ Mr Cann questioned the Special Rapporteur on what conversations he has had with the Iranian Government about abolishing the death penalty and strenthening constitutional protections for minority groups.


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

Watch the intervention.

Read the intervention.

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