The Central London Humanist Group is committed to keeping members informed of Humanism Internationally. We aim to do this through regular bulletins bringing members up to date with issues relating to Humanism around the world.
Edited by Ian Symons.
HUMANISTS STILL UNDER ATTACK
The March edition of this bulletin headlined the murder of Humanist bloggers in Bangladesh and the cruel punishments handed down in Saudi Arabia for criticising religion. Sadly, these issues continue to dominate the news about Humanism globally. A month after the killing of Avijit Roy, another free-thinking blogger, Washiqur Rahman, was hacked to death in Dhaka, and in May Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered in Sylhet. The Bangladesh Government condemned the attacks and arrests have been made in Washiqur Rahman’s case as well as for the killing in 2013 of Ahmed Rajib Haider. But supporters of freedom of speech and expression in Bangladesh accuse political leaders of not acting strongly enough and seeking to gain electoral support from Islamist-minded voters. They also blame the police for failing to defend the lives of bloggers.
These concerns were amongst the powerful messages delivered by Ajivit Roy’s widow, Bonya Ahmed, in the Voltaire Lecture, Fighting Machetes With Pens, which she delivered in London on 2 July. In a very brave and moving address, she discussed her relationship with her late husband, the circumstances of his death, and the development of radical Islamist politics in Bangladesh since the country’s founding as a secular democracy in 1971. A transcript is available on the BHA website.
Meanwhile, the situation of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is as desperate as ever. In June, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence on him of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison. Raif Badawi ran the Liberal Saudi Network, whichencouraged online debate on religious and political issues, and was arrested in 2012 for “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. On 17 June, the third anniversary of Raif’s arrest, the BHA joined a protest at Downing Street against government support for Saudi Arabia. A parallel protest against French government policy took place in Paris on the same day.
On 21 July, the House of Commons held a debate, initiated by Stewart McDonald of the SNP, on Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. Raif Badawi’s case featured prominently and the Government set out its position clearly: the UK has good relations with Saudi Arabia, and while we object to and complain about its human rights behaviour, we are not going to do much about it in practice.
HOUSE OF LORDS DEBATES FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND BELIEF
Raif Badawi’s plight and the murder of Bangladeshi bloggers were raised in a House of Lords debate on Freedom of Religion and Belief on 16 July, during which Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay asserted that the Government “oppose blasphemy laws wherever they still exist” and confirmed its manifesto commitment to “stand up for the freedom of people of all religions—and non-religious people—to practise their beliefs in peace and safety”. What this actually means for British diplomacy, and for the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the many other countries around the world where religious dissent is oppressed, was made clear in the Commons debate referred to above.
Lord Harrison, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, spoke from a Humanist perspective. But otherwise the debate was largely dominated by Peers focusing on threats to their own professed religions. Nevertheless, the debate’s proposer, Lord Alton, a fervent Catholic who expounds many views deeply opposed to Humanist values, argued that non-belief deserves as much protection as religion, as did the present and previous Archbishops of Canterbury.
HUMANISTS PRESS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AT THE UN
At the United Nations Human Rights Council in June, the BHA’s delegate, Cordelia Tucker O’Sullivan, criticised Bangladesh for enacting a law criminalising “defamation of religion” which has been used to prosecute and imprison humanists and secularists. She also called for an end to religiously inspired discrimination against women around the world, including through highly restrictive abortion laws in Northern Ireland and the punishment of rape victims under sharia law in Saudi Arabia.
At the same meeting, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) made a statement criticising Bangladesh and its Awami League Government for debasing their traditionally secular credentials in order to appease Islamist political opinion.
CENTRAL LONDON HUMANIST IN MANILA
In May, Rumit Somaiya represented the Central London Humanist Group at the IHEU General Assembly, hosted in Manila by the Philippines Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS). PATAS was formed in February 2011 to be the primary organisation for atheists and agnostics in the Philippines, a country with 95% religiosity and where great stigma is attached to atheism and homosexuality. PATAS aims to be a source for rational and secular solutions for social issues involving religious abuse and discrimination. Rumit is pictured here (on the right) with Eric Manalastas of the University of the Philippines Psychology Department.
For British Humanists, one of the highlights of the IHEU General Assembly was the election of BHA’s Andrew Copson as President of the organisation’s Executive Committee.
ATHENS HOSTS THE EHF CONFERENCE
I was personally delighted to represent Central London Humanists at the European Humanist Federation General Assembly and Conference in Athens in May. Nearly 70 delegates from 19 countries attended the General Assembly, endorsing the critical role played by EHF in promoting Humanist values in the Brussels corridors of power. Over the last year, EHF has campaigned on a range of issues including:
– defending the rights of non-believers, including the freedom of expression
– promoting women’s rights
– opposing extremist religious activism
– raising EHF’s profile in the EU and in international advocacy generally, and
– strengthening the Humanist network across Europe.
The Conference focussed on relations between religion and the state in Greece, where the Orthodox Church claims a privileged position in public affairs and is often aligned to right wing causes. Alongside the political debate, personal testimony was provided by a Greek blogger, Philippos Loizos (below left), who was convicted of “blasphemy” for mocking the Orthodox Church on Facebook through the creation of a spoof monk, Elder Pastitsios (below right). “Pastitsios” puns both with a well-known real Greek monk and with Pastafarianism.
HUMANISM IN ACTION IN LATIN AMERICA
The Guatemala Secular Humanist Association (Asociación Guatemalteca de Humanistas Seculares – AGHS) has launched a campaign to resist the imposition of religious education, based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, on all schools in the country. The proposal was inspired by a Guatemala Congressman who claimed that he received “explicit instructions from God” during a “divine revelation”. If you want to support AGHS’s campaign, you can contribute via this webpage: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-us-keep-education-secular-in-guatemala#/story.
AGHS was launched last year with support from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and other international organisations, including Italy’s
Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics. In the long term, AGHS will focus on scientific education, secular education, humanitarian work, LGTB rights, separation of Church and State, and animal protection. Guatemala is an overwhelmingly Christian country, mainly Catholic but with a strong Evangelist element which is particularly keen on enforced biblical teaching.
ICELAND REPEALS ITS BLASPHEMY LAW
At the beginning of July, Iceland’s Parliament agreed to abolish the blasphemy provision in the country’s criminal code. The move was widely supported across Icelandic society, including by its Christian clergy. The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, Sidmennt, which had long campaigned for the repeal, said, “Icelanders have now taken an important step in guaranteeing human rights and joined other nations which respect freedom of speech and expression.”
This CLHG International Bulletin was compiled by Ian Symons on behalf of the CLHG Committee. Please send any comments direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.