Category Archives: News

IBRD 2016: Let’s Save Some Lives

Note: this is the fifth in a series of five posts leading up to, and marking, International Blasphemy Rights Day on September 30.

Today is International Blasphemy Rights Day, when we show our solidarity with those who face persecution and violence for daring to criticize or question religion. But today we also mark another dark day in order to make a powerful difference.

On February 26, 2015, machete-wielding militants attacked humanist writers and activists Avijit Roy and Bonya Ahmed as they left a book fair in Dhaka, Bangladesh, leaving Roy dead and Ahmed seriously injured. It was not the first attack on a secularist in Bangladesh — in 2013 Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed, and Asif Mohiuddin seriously injured — but it was perhaps the highest-profile attack in recent years.

Little did we know that it was the first of many more to come. Individuals connected to militant Islamist groups have claimed responsibility for the murders of several secularists and progressive activists in Bangladesh since 2015.

In order to help the countless others who remained at grave risk, the Center for Inquiry launched the Freethought Emergency Fund, a program aimed at relocating threatened secularists and activists to safety. In the past 15 months, we have helped more than a dozen people, including entire families (you can read more about this work here).

Sadly, in 2016 attacks have continued and widened in scope. Recent attacks have claimed religious minorities — including Christians, Hindus, Sufis, and Shias — professors, students, LGBT activists, and even the wife of a police investigator. And terrorists continue to threaten the lives of a number of writers, bloggers, publishers, and activists in the country.

Given the tremendous amount of work it has accomplished, the Freethought Emergency Fund’s balance has dwindled, and so we need more money to help people who remain at risk.

That is why today, on International Blasphemy Rights Day, CFI is relaunching the this important program as Secular Rescue, with a special matching donation offer.

Watch our video announcing Secular Rescue.

Today only — make your dollar go three times as far!

Yes, you read that correctly: through the generosity of two CFI supporters, Douglas Kinney and another donor who wants to remain anonymous, if you give to Secular Rescue today your donation will be matched two-to-one, up to $15,000!

So your $20 donation will be worth $60 to threatened secularists in the world.

Your $100 donation will be worth $300 to writers in exile.

And a $1,000 donation will be worth a remarkable $3,000 to a family in fear of violence and death from extremist forces.

We have never had such a remarkable challenge gift for this program.

But there’s a catch. 

We only receive the match if we receive your donation. So if our friends (yes, that means you!) don’t step up to the plate, the $10,000 will be kaput. Gone. Not available for distribution to people in danger. Yes, it’s that dire. Do your part right now by going to the Secular Rescue website, and see your gift tripled.

Lead by example, and let your friends know this is going on. No matter the size of the gift, it will be tripled. But this offer is only on the table today, so make the most of this generous opportunity!

Donate to Secular Rescue now.

Thank you for taking part in this week’s activities around International Blasphemy Rights Day. Please continue to learn more about this issue, to speak out, and to stand up for free expression.

Remember, ideas don’t need rights. People do.

IBRD 2016: Take Action for Free Expression

Note: this is the fourth in a series of five posts leading up to, and marking, International Blasphemy Rights Day on September 30.

Over the past couple days, followers of our posts leading up to International Blasphemy Rights Day (IBRD) have learned about blasphemy laws and related violence, helped to educate their communities regarding the harm of blasphemy laws and the importance of free expression, and worked to get blasphemy on the minds of the US presidential candidates and into the campaign conversation. Now it’s time to take concrete action against blasphemy laws and for free expression.

If you live outside the U.S., the most effective way to take political action is to search for contact information — phone number or email address — of your elected officials and place a brief call (for some relevant tips, click here) or send a brief message (for some relevant tips, click here) telling them that you are a constituent, and that you have a concern that’s very important to you. 

If you live in the U.S., the the most effective way to take political action is to target Congress, which is currently considering a measure that calls for the global repeal of blasphemy laws and takes to task countries which restrict the right to freedom of expression for religious reasons. There are two ways to take action on this measure.

  • Complete our action alert. Using our pre-filled online letter, in just a few minutes you can send a personalized message to your U.S. representative urging them to co-sponsor and vote for this important measure.
  • Pick up the phone. Take a moment to search for your U.S. representative by zip code, then pick up the phone and place a call urging them to co-sponsor and vote for this important measure (for some relevant tips, click here). Trust us, when voters call their representatives, they know it

It’s 2016. Our civilization must move past the backward idea that religious beliefs must be protected from criticism or inquiry by criminalizing dissent. But with your help, with your voice, through combined action, we can change the world.

Learn more about how to get involved in International Blasphemy Rights Day and advocate for free expression on the take action page of the Campaign for Free Expression.

Come back tomorrow for an important announcement for International Blasphemy Rights Day.

IBRD 2016: Spread the Word

Note: this is the third in a series of five posts leading up to, and marking, International Blasphemy Rights Day on September 30.

As we lead up to International Blasphemy Rights Day (IBRD) on Friday, we’ve been sharing resources from the Campaign for Free Expression aimed at helping to inform you about the nature of blasphemy laws, as well as their terrible impact in societies around the world. Now that you know more about it, it’s time to tell everyone else.

Despite the widespread use of blasphemy laws in countries around the world, and despite the ongoing crisis of blasphemy-related violence, the issue remains under the radar for post people. But there are several simple ways that you can help to change that, using the tools you have right in front of you, or holding in your hand right now. Here are three:

  • Submit a letter to the editor in your local or national newspaper. Research the guidelines for submission, write a brief note about IBRD and why it’s important, and submit! If you can, try to submit your letter in plenty of time for the newspaper’s most read issue: Sunday.
  • Post about IBRD on your social media accounts and/or blog. Use your Facebook or Twitter account, or your blog, to write about IBRD and what others need to know. Retweet and share CFI’s tweets and posts, and use the hashtag #DefendDissent. Use the images and memes from the Campaign for Free Expression website, and the information you’ve learned. And most importantly, talk about why it matters to you.
  • Organize an event or arrange a public display. Connect with your local community organizations, or look for a public space such as a library, and seek out a speaker or put together a display educating others about blasphemy laws and their impact. You’ll reach people who have never thought about the issue in their lives, and spur vital new discussions.

Learn more about how to get involved in International Blasphemy Rights Day and advocate for free expression on the Take Action page of the Campaign for Free Expression. And make sure to come back here tomorrow for more.

IBRD 2016: Get Educated

Note: this is the second in a series of five posts leading up to, and marking, International Blasphemy Rights Day on September 30.

Every day, news outlets report on new accusations of blasphemy somewhere in the world. Someone is being charged or defamed with allegations of insulting or criticizing religion, and lives are being ruined. But it can be difficult to understand these individual cases when they pop up in so many different countries with unfamiliar cultures, where what’s considered “offensive” can change from place to place.

And besides, what is the international law on blasphemy? Where do blasphemy laws exist? What are the different kinds of blasphemy laws? What are the punishments? And which governments or groups are the worst offenders?

Don’t worry. CFI has compiled clear and accessible resources that can help you find answers to these questions, and get a solid handle on the issue.

For example, did you know that blasphemy is an internationally protected right? The UN Human Rights Committee, which tracks and interprets the treaty International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, made clear in 2011 that “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant.”

Or, did you know that more than one-quarter of the world’s countries and territories (26%) have anti-blasphemy laws or policies, and that more than one-in-ten (13%) nations had laws or policies penalizing apostasy? The legal punishments for such transgressions vary from fines to death. That data comes thanks to the Pew Research Center.

There is much more to learn about blasphemy and laws against it. You can dig into this information on the resources page of the Campaign for Free Expression. Come back tomorrow for even more on this important issue.

IBRD 2016: Put Blasphemy Laws on the 2016 Campaign Radar

Note: this is the first in a series of five posts leading up to, and marking, International Blasphemy Rights Day on September 30.

Tonight, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off in the first presidential debate of the 2016 campaign. Moderator Lester Holt, of NBC Nightly News, is expected to raise a number of issues with the candidates — taxes, health care, foreign policy, all the things we expect. However, neither Holt nor the candidates are expected to raise the issue that we are highlighting this week, an issue that chokes off the right to free expression and destroys the lives of those who speak out. We’re talking, of course, about blasphemy laws.

The United States has relations with many governments around the world that criminalize criticism of religious ideas, and relations with many more that are in a position to pressure such governments. Yet many countries continue to jail individuals for blasphemy, or else passively look on while individuals accused of blasphemy are persecuted, attacked, or killed, with no sign of change. Is the U.S. government really doing all it can to push for the end of blasphemy laws?

You can help try to put this issue on the presidential campaign radar tonight by tweeting tough questions about blasphemy laws with the International Blasphemy Rights Day (IBRD) and presidential debate hashtags.

Here are two sample Tweets:

“Do you think the U.S. government has adequately addressed blasphemy laws? What would you do differently?” #blasphemyday #HofDebate16

“What kind of pressure should the US put on countries that criminalize blasphemy?”  #blasphemyday #HofDebate16

With your help, we can raise this issue’s profile by putting blasphemy laws and the struggle for free expression into the mainstream conversation — whether the candidates and the major networks address them or not. Their silence could speak volumes.
You can learn more about International Blasphemy Rights Day and the Campaign for Free Expression here. And be sure to come back here tomorrow for more on the fight for free expression.

Pakistani Christian Jailed for Blasphemy Over Facebook Like

As reported by the Associated Press:

Pakistani police say they have arrested a 16-year-old Christian boy on blasphemy charges after he “liked” an “inappropriate” photograph on Facebook of the Kaaba in Mecca, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

Senior police official Akhtar Ansari said Wednesday the arrest was made this week in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province.

He says police have sent the boy to jail pending trial.

Ansari says police made the arrest after being alerted of the Facebook post by a Muslim, who said he found it insulting.

Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone accused of insulting Islam can be sentenced to death. However the laws are also sometimes used to settle personal scores and target minorities.

You can read more on the story here and here.

UN Committee Insists on Revocation of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

Vatican Radio reports that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has urged Pakistan to revoke its draconian blasphemy law. From the article:

The commission based in Geneva, in its periodic report on Pakistan released on August 26, stated that misuse of blasphemy laws is surging in the heavily Islamic country.

The Commission based in Geneva “takes note of the state’s efforts to prevent the abuse of blasphemy laws”, but also expresses concern about “efforts for the broad and vague definition of crimes against religion under articles of the law”, which consists of some articles of the penal Code of Pakistan, and notes “the disproportionate use of those laws against individuals belonging to ethnic and religious minorities”.

The UN Committee in its report, expressed concerns relating “the high number of blasphemy cases based on false accusations with no related investigations and prosecutions, the judges who judge cases of blasphemy face intimidation, death threats and murders.”

You can read the full article here.

Turkish Pianist Fazıl Say Acquitted of Blasphemy Charges

The Hurriyet Daily News reports on some welcome news out of Turkey:

World-renowned Turkish pianist Fazıl Say was acquitted of blasphemy charges on Sept. 7, four years after being sentenced to a suspended jail term after sharing a post on his Twitter account.

An Istanbul court ordered Say’s acquittal on charges of “insulting religious beliefs held by a section of society” for retweeting several lines attributed to the 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam in 2012.

In a post on his Instagram account after the four-year judicial struggle, Say thanked and congratulated his lawyer Meltem Akyol.

He had received a suspended 10-month prison sentence in April 2013 for retweeting Khayyam’s lines after three people filed a criminal complaint to the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office, accusing him of blasphemy. …

Among the lines attributed to Khayyam that Say retweeted was: “You say its rivers will flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house?”

You can read the full article here.

10 Years Jail, 2,000 Lashes for Saudi Man Who Said He Is an Atheist

Al-Masdar News reports:

A Saudi court has sentenced a 28-year old man to ten years prison, 2,000 lashes and a fine around $5000 for tweeting that he was an atheist.

The man had refused to repent and expressed his beliefs that he had a right to express them.

A law that defines atheism as “terrorism” is what he was charged under.

Article one of the law defined terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.

You can read the article here.

Malta Repeals Blasphemy Law

The parliament of Malta has voted to repeal the country’s law that criminalizes the vilification of religion, reports the End Blasphemy Laws campaign.

The island nation of Malta has become the latest country to scrap its “blasphemy” law. In abolishing the law against “vilification” of religion, Bill 133 in a victory for free expression and freedom of religion or belief.

The traditionally Catholic country previously outlawed “vilification of religion”, with “vilification” very loosely defined. The law meant that speech against beliefs and ideas (as opposed to incitement to hatred against individuals) could be prosecuted. And the law was frequently used to prosecute or threaten prosecution, often for flimsy “crimes” such as swearing on the streets.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna lamented the news by stating it was a “sad day” :

“Demeaning God and man indeed go hand in hand. A sad day for Malta. Lord forgive them: they do not know what they do.”

You can read further coverage here.