United Nations told atheists face discrimination around globe

Navi Pillay talks to Remigiusz Henczel

Atheists, humanists and freethinkers face widespread discrimination around the world with expression of their views criminalized and subject in some countries to capital punishment, the United Nations was told on Monday.

In a document for consideration by the world body's Human Rights Council, a global organization linking people who reject religion said atheism was banned by law in a number of states where people were forced to officially adopt a faith.

"Extensive discrimination by governments against atheists, humanists and the non-religious occurs worldwide," declared the grouping, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) which has some 120 member bodies in 45 countries.

In Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan "atheists can face the death penalty on the grounds of their belief" although this was in violation of U.N. human rights accords, the IHEU said.

Further, in several others legal measures "effectively criminalize atheism (and) the expression and manifestation of atheist beliefs" or lead to systematic discrimination against freethinkers, the document declared.

It was submitted to the rights council as it opened its annual Spring session against a background of new efforts in the U.N. by Muslim countries to obtain a world ban on denigration of religion, especially what they call "Islamophobia".

Three of the states with legislation providing for death for blasphemy against Islam, a charge which can be applied to atheists who publicly reveal their ideas, are on the council - Pakistan, Mauritania and Maldives.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the council on Monday there was a "rising trend" of Islamophobia, adding: "We condemn all sorts of incitement to hatred and religious discrimination against Muslims and people of other faiths."

OIC WANTS ACTION

And earlier this month a top official of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the body would be focusing on getting agreement on criminalizing denigration of religion in coming talks with Western countries.

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