You Can’t Always Think What You Want

Seriously, you can’t! And if you tell someone about something, like on Facebook or Twitter, you may be prosecuted, jailed or – ultimately – get killed.  According to the  report “Freedom of Thought 2012” by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), atheists, humanists and other nonreligious people are discriminated against by governments across the world. There are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.

“Indeed, outspoken freethinkers often serve as the “canary in the coal mine” whose persecution presages a growing intolerance of diversity and debate.”

International Humanist and Ethical Union


This must be one of the unintended consequences of our new globalized, digitalized, and socialized society: everyone has to know who you are, what you do, when you fart, etc. If not, you’re a subject of suspicion and risk being expelled from the community, prosecuted, jailed or even worse… Some governments outlaw the very existence of atheists. Many countries criminalize manifestations of atheist convictions or skeptical thoughts. In prosecuting these “crimes” it may not be necessary to accuse the person of atheism. Many states prosecute people who express their religious doubts or dissent regardless of whether those dissenters identify as atheist, the report says.

“More commonly, secular people experience discrimination when they manifest their conscience by acting against the dictates of the religion of their family, community or country. In some societies,  allegations of religious dissent are manufactured for use against minority belief communities, or vulnerable individuals, or to settle personal vendettas,” the IHEU writes.

A handful of countries criminalize atheism per se. In addition, there are several forms of legal measures found across many countries that either criminalize the expression of atheist beliefs or result in systematic discrimination against atheists and those who reject religion.

These include laws regulating:

  • Apostasy and religious conversion
  • Blasphemy and religious criticism
  • Compulsory religious registration, usually with a list of permissible religions
  • Religious tests for citizenship or participation in civic life
  • Religious control of family law
  • Religious control of public education.

“In many cases these laws intersect with each other, compounding the problems experienced by atheists. For instance, citizens may be required to identify their religion on a government ID card and yet are forbidden from identifying as atheist, humanist or “no religion”. If atheists in these countries are open about their lack of religion, they will be prosecuted. If instead they identify with a religion, such as the faith they were raised in, they may be prosecuted for making a false statement on a government document.”

Uten navn“Even if someone is able to avoid prosecution by denying their true beliefs (which is in itself a violation of conscience) and identifying with a religion they do not support, they may face other negative consequences, such as being forced to submit to that religion in cases of family law.”

“It should be stressed that all these laws seek to control and regulate religious belief and behavior in ways that can adversely affect all belief groups and believers, whether religious or not. Atheists and humanists–and others who doubt, dissent, or protest religion without identifying with any label or tradition–may be at one end of the spectrum of belief, but they often suffer the same forms of discrimination as other belief groups. Indeed, outspoken freethinkers often serve as the “canary in the coal mine” whose persecution presages a growing intolerance of diversity and debate,” the report states.

Poking Not Funny Anymore

There was a time the coolest thing you could do on Facebook was to poke someone.  Today you better be careful with every interaction you make. Join the wrong group and you’ll find yourself on the way to Guantanamo the next day.

And for Gods sake – Ops! Sorry! – don’t make any religious statements or comments.

2012 has seen a sharp rise in prosecution for alleged atheist criticism of religion on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. Between 2007 and 2011, IHEU saw only three social media blasphemy prosecutions; two of them in Egypt. Whereas in 2012 we have seen more than a dozen people, in ten different countries, charged for “blasphemous” social media statements. As more people are able to share their thoughts with a public audience, it seems that more people are able to take offence at those thoughts (and to provide public proof of them).

And, specially if you are in a Muslim country; lay off the “like” button!

“In some of these cases, the governments even threatened to prosecute those who commented on, or “liked”, or re-tweeted, the offending comments,” according to the report.

“Social media are playing an important role in opening up previously closed societies. The Arab Spring demonstrated the liberating power of the new freedom of expression. It also showed that we need to protect freedom of inquiry in religious matters just as much as in political issues. Indeed, the fact that religious and political power are so often intertwined is one reason why religious criticism is usually treated as a political threat, and why neither religious nor political authorities can be allowed to be beyond criticism.”

You can download the full report from The Box at the bottom of the page.

Russia Today has covered this topic for quite some time. Here are some of their stories:


Related articles:


All Human Rights Reserved (h) 2012


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