Blasphemy laws must be repealed, Humanists UK tells UN

17 March, 2023

Humanists UK has repeated its call for all UN member states to repeal laws against blasphemy and apostasy and the release of those convicted or detained under such laws. In an intervention made at the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists UK highlighted that the criminalisation of blasphemy is prohibited by international human rights law, which supports freedom of religion or belief, including for the non-religious.

The intervention was delivered by video to the new Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. Humanists UK’s Policy and Campaigns Officer Laura Newlyn stated: 

‘The Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 22 stipulates the terms ‘religion’ and ‘belief’ should be interpreted broadly, and that Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects ‘non-theistic and atheistic beliefs’ as well as theistic ones. The Committee’s General Comment 34 further states that prohibiting expression that displays a ‘lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant’. Yet over 40% of UN member states have blasphemy laws on the books, including 13 where it is punishable by death.

‘In December Indonesia passed a new criminal code which expanded the scope of its 1965 blasphemy law, in contradiction with its own constitution. It also criminalises anyone who attempts to persuade a person to become ‘a non-believer’. The Atheist Society of Kenya is due to appear before the High Court in the coming days to challenge its suspension as the first registered non-religious society following complaints from religious groups for exercising its rights to freedom of religion or belief and expression. Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, remains in prison, sentenced to 24 years for expressing his humanist views on Facebook.’

She went on to ask the Special Rapporteur what action she would take to work towards all UN states repealing blasphemy laws and to secure the release of those who have been convicted or detained under them.


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.

Read the full intervention.

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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.