The principle of free expression is central to democracy and to Western ideas of justice. Yet true freedom of expression is rare; a recent report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union shows that "overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of humanists, atheists and the non-religious." And as the report's authors note, "human rights... tend to stand or fall together. When the non-religious are being persecuted, it's usually the case that specific religious minorities are too. This is not a coincidence. It is part of how human rights work. If you violate one right, then not only are you likely to be violating others, you will also be degrading the social good, and making other rights harder to achieve. This is why human rights are interconnected and indivisible."
The most egregious examples, according to The Freedom of Thought report, are found in the Muslim world, where 30 countries were graded "severe." Below are excerpts of some of the worst of them excerpted from the International Humanist And Ethical Union's 2017 "Freedom of Thought" report website: http://freethoughtreport.com/countries/
~An amendment to the constitution passed in 2011 established Islam as the state religion yet reaffirmed the country is a 'secular state' and guaranteed 'freedom of religion.'"
~The tension between Islamism and secularism in Bangladesh has resulted in the legal persecution of freethinkers and minority belief groups, which occasionally erupts into violence.
~[Serious] concerns remain that in many of the pervasive Islamic madrassa schools, the entire curriculum may be reduced to a narrowly Islamist programme, fostering extremism and bigotry.
~ In 2013, several atheist and freethought bloggers were the victims of physical assaults, as well as government prosecutions for crimes of "blasphemy" in all but name, with one critic of Islam murdered by machete.
~ In 2015, four more humanist writers were murdered in similar attacks by groups of young men using machetes, followed by twin coordinated attacks on secular publishing houses on 31 October 2015, in which one publisher was killed and others were shot and critically injured. Responsibility for the attacks has been claimed by a variety of Jihadist militant groups, accusing the bloggers of "insulting Islam" or "defaming the Prophet"
~Speaking about the murder of her husband, blogger Avijit Roy, Rafida Ahmed said:
"So, what happens when you give bullies what they want? What happens when you accede to crazy demands? Soon there were 100,000 Islamists marching on the streets of Dhaka demanding not just 'death to atheist bloggers', but for the cancellation of planned new education reforms that would have helped girls into education, and yet the government again made concessions. Since 2013 Islamists have been granted demand after demand, while the attackers of those first victims – Ahmed [Rajib Haider] and Asif [Mohiuddin] – were never found."
~There is no freedom of religion or belief in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the freedoms of expression, association and assembly are severely restricted by the theocratic regime. Iranian law bars any criticism of Islam or deviation from the ruling Islamic standards. Government leaders use these laws to persecute religious minorities and dissidents.
~ A study of the Penal Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran reveals that, for a number of offences, the punishment differs in function of the religion of the victim and/or the religion of the offender. The fate of Muslim victims and offenders is systematically more favourable than that of non-Muslims, showing that the life and physical integrity of Muslims is given a much higher value than that of non-Muslims. This institutionalized discrimination is particularly blatant for the following crimes:
Adultery: The sanctions for adultery vary widely according to the religion of both members of the couple. A Muslim man who commits adultery with a Muslim woman is punished by 100 lashes (Article 88). However, a non-Muslim man who commits adultery with a Muslim woman is subject to the death penalty (Article 82-c). If a Muslim man commits adultery with a non-Muslim woman, the Penal Code does not specify any penalty.
Homosexuality: Likewise, homosexuality "without consummation" between two Muslim men is punished by 100 lashes (Article 121) but if the "active party" is non-Muslim and the other Muslim, the non-Muslim is subject to the death penalty.
~ Women are considered to be under male guardianship. Article 1105 of the civil code states that men are the exclusive head of the family and women do not have the same rights as men regarding child custody. Further, women are discriminated in inheritance law and inherit less than their male relatives. Women can hardly obtain a divorce, even with the Islamic principle of "khula", where a woman obtains a divorce and forfeits all future financial support from her husband, she still needs the consent of her husband. There is no specific law criminalizing domestic violence. Rape is not recognized as a distinct offence, but rather as adultery and a rape victim must present four male eyewitnesses in order to prove the crime. Female witnesses count only the half of male witnesses. Spousal rape is not recognized.
~ November 2014, the Supreme court upheld the death sentence of blogger Soheil Arabi for the charge of "insulting the Prophet Muhammad" on Facebook.
~ A devastating series of progressive incursions by terror group ISIS has caused major human rights violations and loss of territorial integrity in the past few years. Targeting religious minorities, as well as Muslims and alleged 'apostates' or 'blasphemers', ISIS has degraded security across large parts of the country.
~ The constitution establishes God's "right" over the people and government, and Article 2 emphasizes Islam as a "foundation source of legislation".
~The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression. However, these rights are frequently violated in practice by the government and also as a result of sectarian violence.
~ Freedom of media is guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution but it is restricted in practice by the threat of violence. Many journalists received threats and a number of them were killed in 2013 and after proclamation of Islamic State.
~ A 15-year old atheist Ahmad Sherwan was imprisoned in solitary confinement, tortured by electric shock, and threatened with murder, after a discussion in which he told his father that he no longer believed in God, after undertaking "extracurricular" reading. His father then reported him to the police who held and tortured him. He was released after 13 days.
~Though most famous internationally as a popular tourist destination, Maldives has been described as undergoing a battle between liberal and literal interpretations of Islam, with serious human rights violations linked to fundamentalists, and attacks on perceived atheists and homosexuals in recent years.
~The constitution and other laws do not permit freedom of religion or belief. While freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution, it is not respected in practice. The constitution designates Islam as the official state religion, and other articles in the constitution appear to make the practice of Islam mandatory. The government and many citizens at all levels interpret the constitution as imposing a requirement that all citizens must be Muslims.
~The government follows civil law based on Islamic law, and this civil law is subordinate to Islamic law. In a situation not covered by civil law, and in certain cases such as divorce and adultery, Islamic law is applied.
~In June, 2014, around 40 men, including known religious extremists and local gang members, abducted several young men who had advocated for secularism and/or gay rights, in a spate of kidnappings in Malé City.
~The constitution declares that "Islam is the religion of the State" (Article 3) .... It also refers to Islam, as well as monarchy, as one of the "federative constants" of the Nation (Article 1). The King is considered as a direct descendant of the prophet of Islam, which gives the ruling Alaouite dynasty its legitimacy.
~ Religious instruction is compulsory in all national schools (Article 31), both public and private, according to the Sunnite Malikite Islam. All students pass an Islamic education test, among other subjects, to obtain Baccalaureat. There are quranic schools (Msid), where children from an early age (4-5 years old) learn Quran by heart, and are subject to corporal punishment, indoctrination, among other abuses.
~ Article 222 of the Penal Code states that "a person commonly known to be Muslim who violates the fast in a public place during Ramadan, without having one of the justifications allowed by Islam [such as travelling, sickness, or menstruation] shall be punished by one to six months in prison."
~ A 2002 law restricting media freedom prohibits expression deemed critical of "Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or territorial integrity." Such expression may be punishable by imprisonment and includes members of the parliament.
~ The legal environment in Pakistan is notably repressive; it has brutal blasphemy laws, systemic and legislative religious discrimination, and often allows vigilante violence on religious grounds to occur with impunity.
~ The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion.
~ It is a constitutional requirement that the president and prime minister be Muslim. All senior officials, including members of parliament, must swear an oath to protect the country's Islamic identity and affirm their belief in the finality of the prophet Mohammad.
~ Forced "conversion" to Islam is a serious problem faced by some minorities in the country, usually targeting young women and girls as a way of forcibly marrying them into Muslim families.
~ Blasphemy laws carry the death penalty or life in prison, and tend to target non-believers, religious minorities and dissenting Muslims.... Notably, for a charge of blasphemy to be made in Pakistan an allegation is all that is required – and it may be highly subjective, since the law does not provide clear guidance on what constitutes a violation. Proof of intent or evidence against the alleged is not necessary and there are no penalties for making false allegations.
~Since 2014, Saudi law defines "the promotion of atheism" as an act of "terrorism." Accusations of apostasy or promoting atheism have been made in recent years, with individuals facing possible death sentences and serving long jail terms.
~There is no freedom of religion or belief in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism – commonly described as an "ultra conservative" or "fundamentalist" branch of Sunni Islam – is functionally recognized as the state religion. According to Article 1 of the of the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia (its equivalent to a constitution), "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion; God's Book and the Sunnah of his Prophet (God's prayers and peace be upon him) are its constitution."
~ The problem if propagation of religious hatred in the classroom remains significant in Saudi Arabia. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the textbooks used in secondary schools from 2013 to 2015 "continued to teach hatred toward members of other religions and, in some cases, promote violence. For example, some justified violence against apostates and polytheists and labeled Jews and Christians "enemies."
~In 2002, in an incident known as the Meccas girls' school fire, the Saudi religious police prevented girls from evacuating their school during a fire, insisting that they must obey the religious dress code. Fifteen girls were killed in the blaze.
~"Blasphemy" Is conceived as a deviation from Sunni Islam and thus may be treated as "apostasy." Apostasy is criminalized and mandates a death penalty.
~ In November 2015, Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to death for "apostasy", a sentence to be carried out by beheading by sword. Fayadh, a member of the British-Saudi art organization Edge of Arabia, was first arrested in August 2013, in connection with his poetry. In a series of trials he has been accused of "spreading atheism", insulting "the divine self", insulting the Prophet Muhammad, discrediting the Quran and Hadith, and objecting to concepts of fate as acts of God. Even "having long hair" has been cited against him, as well as supposedly "having relationships" with women and having photographs of them on his mobile phone (the photographs appear to be simple side-by-side photographs with friends and colleagues). Despite having no access to a lawyer and thus violating the right to a fair trial, at the conclusion of the retrial, on 24 November 2015, Fayadh was sentenced to death. He has said he will appeal.
~In December 2013, Raif Badawi, a blogger and creator of a "Liberal Saudi" blogging platform, intended to foster debate on religion and politics, was accused of "apostasy" and eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes with a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals for "insulting Islam"
~The preamble to the constitution establishes it as an announcement "to Allah, the Supreme and Almighty, and to all the people."
~ The government does not permit instruction in any religion other than Islam in public schools; however, religious groups may conduct religious instruction for their members at their dedicated religious facilities. Private schools found to be teaching subjects that offend Islam, defame any religion, or contravene the country's morals and beliefs face potential penalties including closure.
~All citizens of the UAE are deemed to be Muslims. Conversion to other religions (and by implication, advocacy of atheism) is forbidden and the legal punishment for conversion from Islam is death, although there have been no known prosecutions or legal punishments for apostasy in court.
~In practice the UAE tolerates the practice of other religions by non-citizens (who are foreign workers) provided they do not proselytize. Non-citizens have few rights under the constitution and are subject to the Islamic Sharia which is a main source of legislation in the UAE.