Advocacy statements

Persecution of Ashraf Fayadh, Sherif Gaber and Karim al-Banna

  • Date / 2016
  • Location / Egypt
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 4: Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 31st Session (29th February – 24th March 2016)

General Debate on Item 4

Some months ago in Saudi Arabia [where atheists are defined as terrorists by law], Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh was accused of “spreading atheism”, insulting “the divine self”, and objecting to concepts of fate as acts of God.[1] For this he was sentenced to death for “apostasy” (to be carried out via beheading by sword). Last month, Fayadh’s death sentence was overturned, and he was re-sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes. This month a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for expressing his atheism on Twitter.

In February 2015, Egyptian student Sherif Gaber declared his atheism on Facebook and was sentenced to a year’s hard labour for “contempt of religion.” He was also charged with promoting “debauchery” after he challenged a lecturer who said that homosexuals should be “killed in the streets”. [Gaber went into hiding following the sentence this year.][2] A month previously, atheist activist Karim al-Banna was sentenced to three years in jail for “insulting the divine” after declaring his atheism online. The prosecution had tried to demand that Al-Banna be sent to prison without trial, and his name was included in a list of “known atheists” in a local daily newspaper. [He is now in hiding].[3]

These cases are notable in their representing country laws in diametric opposition to the internationally recognised twin rights to freedom of conscience and expression, specifically in relation to declared atheism.

Discrimination and persecution against the non-religious or those criticising religious views is very often bound up with political suppression and fears about progressive values. Humanists and secularists are often amongst the first to ask questions, and to raise the alarm when human rights are being trampled upon, or when religion is misused or abused. Silence the non-religious, and you silence some of the leading voices of responsible concern in society.

We call on Egypt and Saudi Arabia – a member of the Council, and Chair of the Council’s Consultative Group – to drop the convictions and charges in the aforementioned cases, and change their laws with urgency so as to fall in line with their international obligations.


[1] http://iheu.org/death-for-apostasy-must-not-stand-free-ashraf-fayadh/

[2] http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2015/02/17/egyptian-student-given-prison-sentence-for-atheist-facebook-posts/

[3] www.dailynewsegypt.com/2015/03/14/student-in-hiding-after-prison-sentence-for-atheism-confirmed

Suggested academic reference

'Persecution of Ashraf Fayadh, Sherif Gaber and Karim al-Banna', Humanists International

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