This is how we help humanists at risk

Every day, all around the world

  • post Type / Protect Humanists At Risk
  • Date / 7 August 2020

On 21 June we launched our #ProtectHumanistsAtRisk campaign. The goal is to raise £25,000 to support our work on behalf of individuals at risk for their promotion of humanism. In seven weeks we gathered £11,000 (44% of the target). Yet, another thing is increasing fast: the number of requests for help (94 in seven months).

Last week, we reported on the demographics of humanists at risk that contacted us since January. This week, we will be taking a look at how we have helped those who have reached out to us.

Our data (January-July 2020)

We helped 45 humanists at risk in 18 countries

Since January 2020, we have provided support to 45 individuals from across the globe, that’s half of those who have reached out to us for help. 

More than a quarter of those we have supported originally come from Pakistan (27,3% to be more exact). This will come as little surprise to those who have read the Humanists at Risk: Action Report 2020 which demonstrates how accusations of blasphemy can lead to death, either through the courts or at the hands of the mob.

As tensions have grown in Nigeria following the arrest of Mubarak Bala and a resulting campaign against atheists, others on the ground have faced increased threats as a result of their advocacy for humanist values and public support for their colleague, Mubarak Bala. 

Who have we helped?

We work concertedly on cases of individuals who are facing charges or are already imprisoned for their promotion of humanist values and/or non-theistic beliefs.

Such work is complex, and as such is carried out over longer periods of time. Almost a quarter of all those we have assisted are currently imprisoned or detained, while yet more are facing protracted legal battles.

We have recently taken up the cases of two individuals in Sri Lanka (Indika Rathnayake and Shakthika Sathkumara) who are facing accusations of having hurt the sentiments of Buddhists in their writings and the possibility of 10 years in prison should formal charges be brought against them. 

Most of those who we have helped over the past seven months are living a double life in order to protect themselves; outwardly simulating what is expected of them by their family or community, keeping their true beliefs to themselves. They wrestle with very real and legitimate fears of the consequences should their lack of faith be exposed. For some, it might be rejection by their family or community, it could mean physical or emotional abuse, for others it could lead to accusations of ‘blasphemy’ or ‘apostasy,’ which carry heavy sentences in many countries. Many report feeling like they are ‘disappearing’ or being ‘hypocritical’ by living a closeted life so far removed from their own values. Living in the closet may have protected them from receiving direct threats, but the fear of exposure and pressure to conform can place a heavy psychological burden.

How have we helped them?

When Humanists International receives such requests, we assess each case based on the individual’s level of risk and our capacity to assist them. While we are able to provide a range of support to individuals at risk, there are limits to what we can provide and how many cases we can support.

We work with the individuals themselves to find opportunities to manage their own risk and to identify the kinds of support that they might need, and what is in their best interest.

While you may be aware of the work we have been doing to support high profile cases such as Mubarak Bala in Nigeria, much of the work we do is not publicly visible.

We have provided the equivalent of £10,943.91 in small grants to help 8 individuals at risk cover legal, medical, travel and living expenses. Where we haven’t been able to support individuals ourselves, we have worked with them to find alternative sources of funding.

In fact, a lot of the support that we are able to provide is in helping individuals identify the most appropriate means of helping them manage their risk.

In some cases, the support we offer is one-off – such as providing advice and referrals to other organisations better placed to help, advising on the process of claiming asylum, identifying local groups who can provide a support network or local women’s shelters. In others, our interventions are longer-term. The longer-term the support, the more wide ranging that support is, this is often because we are more likely to provide long-term support in more serious cases.

Solidarity and emotional support is key to the support we provide. Many individuals reaching out to us are simply seeking a community that shares their values and is able to provide moral support and advice in hard times.

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt by all of us, but our experience suggests that some of those most acutely affected are those who were already at risk of persecution before the outbreak.

Travel restrictions are having a serious impact: many individuals have written to us seeking advice, stranded in a foreign country after their passage to safety was interrupted. Others never made it out before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and fear being ‘sitting ducks’ for would-be assailants. This is especially the case as restrictions on movement lift. Those in prison or detention are being held in conditions liable to increase the spread of the virus, in countries where the pandemic has taken a strong hold. Their health, severely weakened by their treatment in detention and the conditions in which they are held, puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting the virus, should they contract it.

Some might ask why we haven’t been able to help more people in the last seven months. The answer is simple: before we take action on a case, we must work to verify it. This process takes time and resources, both of our staff team and expert volunteers. With the limited resources we have, we must prioritise those most in need of our support.

Since the appointment of our new Humanists At Risk Coordinator, Emma Wadsworth-Jones, in April, our capacity to support individuals at risk has grown considerably. Having a dedicated Humanists at Risk Coordinator will enable us to join up our work, keeping on top of the most urgent cases and coordinating with members of the team,  member organisations, and international partners alike to provide individuals at risk with much needed support.

What can you do to help us?

We know that this is a difficult time for everyone, and we understand that you may not be in a position to support our work financially at this time, but if you can, humanists at risk are in need now, more than ever. Any amount will go towards our work on behalf of individuals at risk. 

Other ways you can get involved, spread the word:

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