Published on 9 May 2019 in Campaign news

Call on African states to abolish blasphemy and apostasy laws

Religion does not trump human rights, Humanists International has argued at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, reiterating a call for African states to abolish laws against ‘blasphemy’ and ‘apostasy’.

During a meeting on the human rights situation in Africa, Humanists International Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, criticized Mauritania’s move last year to make the death penalty mandatory for apostasy.

She also called on the Commission to start more systematic work towards the abolition of blasphemy and apostasy laws across the continent.

In Humanists International’s first statement to the 64th session, O’Casey reminded delegates that,

“You cannot use the presumed articles of a religion to deny someone their freedom of religion or belief”, and “measures taken against blasphemy and apostasy disproportionately impact humanists and atheists in their expression of secular values, critique of the politicisation of religion and support for democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”

The Commission is meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, and Humanists International took the opportunity to highlight the situation for atheists, humanists and freethinkers in Egypt: “For years now here in Egypt, the non-religious have faced enormous hostility, prejudice, and blasphemy arrests […] atheists are one of Egypt’s least-protected minorities.”

In response to the statement, the Egyptian ambassador “thanked” Humanists International “for the preventive insights they made in their statement,” and said that a cornerstone of the society is “equal rights and non-discrimination, no matter how strongly someone believes or disbelieves.”

Atheists in Egypt have regularly been on the receiving end of denigration by religious and political figures in recent years, including a proposed national programme to “educate” young people against atheism, and discussion in 2017 of a proposed parliamentary bill to outlaw atheism as a form of “contempt of religion”. However, there are some minimal signals of a more inclusive attitude, with president Sisi quoted as saying last year that “even the right not to worship is something that we cannot intervene in.”

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is a quasi-judicial body tasked with promoting and protecting human rights throughout the African continent as well as interpreting the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and considering individual complaints of violations of the Charter. It is officially charged with three major functions: the protection of human and peoples’ rights; the promotion of human and peoples’ rights; the interpretation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

To read the statement in full, go to: