Multinational alliance calls out global persecution of the non-religious

19 April, 2024

Pictured: Humanists UK Chief Executive, Andrew Copson, The Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief, London 2022

Humanists UK has welcomed a statement published by the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA) that highlights the persecution of the non-religious and calls for their protection. IRFBA is a network of 38 countries, including the UK, committed to advancing freedom of religion or belief around the world.  The right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) includes the right to hold non-religious beliefs, such as humanism.

Humanists at Risk

Some 12 countries have the death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy; a number more have seen people murdered for the same. At least 89 countries have blasphemy laws on the books. More generally, some 30 countries are classified by the Freedom of Thought Report as guilty of grave violations against the non-religious.

Contrary to arguments often used by repressive states, so-called blasphemous expression and the right to freedom of religion or belief are not in conflict with each other. Blasphemy is often portrayed as falling under the protection of the right to freedom of expression only and in opposition to the right to freedom of religion or belief. However, this ignores that blasphemous expression can in fact be a legitimate manifestation of the right to freedom of religion or belief by non-religious people. For example, just declaring oneself as an atheist or stating that there is no God can be understood as blasphemy.

One high profile example is the case of Mubarak Bala, the President of the Nigerian Humanist Association. Bala was sentenced to 24 years in prison for posting ‘blasphemous’ content on Facebook. His case has been plagued with procedural irregularities. The outcome of his appeal is expected no later than 21 May 2024.

IRFBA’s statement on the global persecution of the non-religious

The statement reflects many of Humanist UK’s concerns that the position of most non-religious people around the world is perilous. It says:

‘Threats to the rights of non-religious individuals can come from a wide range of sources, from individuals and non-state actors to government authorities, and this suppression makes it impossible to be openly or legally non-religious in many cases. They languish in prison cells, under house arrest, or even in internment camps. Others have simply vanished. Among these is atheist and humanist Mubarak Bala. We join international calls for him to be pardoned.‘

Humanist UK broadly supports IFRBA’s statement that calls on states:

  • to repeal blasphemy and apostasy laws, and to release those convicted or detained under them along with ‘other humanists, atheists and non-religious individuals’ convicted or detained for their belief.
  • to hold accountable those committing violent crimes against the non-religious because of their beliefs, and against those accused of so-called blasphemy and apostasy.
  • to uphold the civil rights of humanists and the non-religious, granting them equal protection under law, and to not subject them to religious courts.
  • to end discrimination against humanists and the non-religious including granting equal citizenship rights and the ability to establish and register NGOs.
  • to secure the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), including the right to hold non-religious beliefs on an equal basis as religious beliefs, by enacting national legislation, and integrating the promotion of FoRB with other human rights.
  • to embed inclusivity of the non-religious in human rights work by improving religion or belief literacy of ministers, public officials, and civil servants through awareness raising and training programmes.

Humanists UK disagrees with one part of the recommendations that calls on states to allow humanists to pass their beliefs on to their children. In line with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which protects the child’s right to choose their own thoughts, conscience and religion or belief, Humanists UK campaigns for children to have access to objective information about religious and non-religious beliefs to help them fully exercise this right.

Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick commented:

‘We thank the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance for their statement on the oppression and persecution of the global humanist community, and for engaging with Humanists UK about our concerns. We are pleased to see these concerns broadly reflected in a majority of the recommendations. We hope states will take note of these recommendations and act upon them.

‘We do however urge states to facilitate the inclusion of humanism in state education about religion, and for education on religion and belief to be objective, critical, and pluralistic in its teaching.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at or phone 07534 248 596.

Read more about our international work

Read International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance full statement on the non-religious.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 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.