In 2010, Kacem El Ghazzali from Morocco found himself threatened with death for declaring his atheism and expressing his doubts about Islam on his website.
Three years later, having been hounded out of his country into exile in Switzerland he was given the chance to put a question directly to the Moroccan delegation at the United Nations on Tuesday. Morocco is a predominantly Islamic country and a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Speaking as a representative attached to the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) delegation at the Human Rights Council, Kacem told his story:
I am from a religious minority, I am an atheist. But as a result of publicly declaring my atheism I had to flee my native Morocco in fear of my life and seek refuge in Switzerland.
In 2010 I was a victim of death threats, of physical violence, and of discrimination by agents of the State.
After posting several articles on the internet about my atheism and why I decided to leave Islam I began to receive death threats, and people started to circulate my photo and address, calling on people to kill me. These threats were echoed by a public school teacher, who told students that I was an apostate atheist, showed them my videos and blogs, and said that I should be punished according to Islamic law – in other words, I should be killed. This was followed by demonstration against me in which the police refused to intervene. Instead I was taken from my home at night for interrogation by people who identified themselves as secret policemen.
When I tried to file a complaint against the teacher they refused to take up the case, saying it would be better to remove my blogs and apologise, and that they could easily arrest me because of a case taken out against me by an Islamic association. They added that declaring my atheism was the same as criticizing and insulting the king which under the constitution was considered to be blasphemy.
May I, through this Council, ask the government of Morocco why, under the Constitution, is no atheist allowed to be a citizen? Why does the Constitution insist that anyone with an Islamic name must be a Muslim? And why should an atheist be threatened with death?
Thank you Sir.
Kacem's person contribution follows a series of actions by IHEU highlighting the importance of secular views under the banner of "freedom of expression" and "freedom of religion or belief" including the right to apostasy in international human rights law, and noting that despite this atheism remains explicitly or effectively illegal in many countries. In Decemeber IHEU published its first Freedom of Thought report on discrimination against non-religious persons around the world.