Advocacy statements

Apostasy laws in Muslim majority countries

  • Date / 2017
  • Location / Algeria
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 9: Follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 34th Session 

General Debate, Item 9: Contemporary Forms of Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Atheists, freethinkers and even sometimes secular Muslims living in Muslim majority countries are often demonized, feared, arrested and systematically persecuted. 

In our recent IHEU Freedom of Thought report, we reported 12 countries where apostasy is punished by the death penalty – in all of which, Islam is the state religion. Those states deny the very rights that this Council has pledged to promote and protect. Surprisingly therefore, many of them are members’ states of this council. 

Blasphemy laws violate Human Rights; they violate the most valuable of rights, which are freedom of speech and thought. We have been following and have raised several cases showing how blasphemy laws are politically-used to silence dissidents and discriminate against minorities. 

One case we have raise many times without success, is that of the anti-slavery Mauritanian activist and blogger, Mohamed Ould Sheikh Mkheitir, who was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death for writing an article where he argued against the use of religion in upholding racial discrimination in his home country. Another is that of Rachid Fodil, who is doing a five-year sentence in jail on the charge of blasphemy in Algeria, after he published posts on social media and created a song using several verses from the Qur’an.

Freedom of speech is meant to allow people to think and express themselves freely without fear of persecution or discrimination, Individuals from all religions and beliefs have the right to criticize debate or even ridicule and insult different ideas or beliefs as long as they do not incite violence or advocate hate. 

We urge the Council to condemn the use of apostasy and blasphemy laws against any peaceful bloggers, freethinkers and secular Muslims, and to urge Islamic countries to implement UN Resolution 16/18 and the Rabat Plan of Action – which seeks to prevent incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence whilst protecting free speech.

Suggested academic reference

'Apostasy laws in Muslim majority countries', Humanists International

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