The right to apostasy in the world

The right to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) is a fundamental right of every human being. As stated in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, FoRB “includes freedom to change his religion or belief”, which includes in turn the right to leave religion entirely and the right to freely identify with whatever label fits for the individual – including atheist, humanist, agnostic, etc.

However, in at least 10 countries around the world ‘apostasy’, which is the act of leaving religion, is punishable by death. These countries are: Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Hudud Crimes

In Afghanistan, Maldives, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates apostasy is considered a hudud crime, i.e. crimes that are considered to be against the rights of God, which have fixed punishments; according to Islamic law, apostasy is punishable by death. In all three countries, hudud crimes are stated in the penal code to be illegal. While apostasy is not a federal crime in Malaysia, it is considered a hudud crime in two regional states, Kelantan and Terengganu. There are no official laws against apostasy in Iran, however, there are cases where religious courts have sentenced individuals to death for apostasy. 

In many other countries apostates face social stigma or are actively discriminated against or persecuted by the state (see the Humanists International Freedom of Thought Report for more information), even when there are no official laws stating that ‘apostasy’ is illegal. For instance, in Kuwait, apostates can lose certain rights, like the right to inherit property from Muslim relatives. Moreover, the government does not issue documents stating a change in religion or belief, unless the person has converted to Islam, making apostasy de facto illegal. 

Moreover, there are reports of individuals being prosecuted with blasphemy provisions for renouncing his or her religion in countries where apostasy is not a criminal offence, but blasphemy is. In addition, where people don’t have the right to apostasy or where it is difficult to leave a religion, religious groups are able to claim an inflated membership which may lead to inflated benefits or privileges for religious institutions.

Organizations offering help

The humanist and secular organisations displayed in the list below, all campaign for the right to apostasy in their respective countries, or support people in leaving a religion. Depending on the national context, they provide resources, legal support, online advice, or even organise days of “collective apostasy”. We invite you to visit their websites or to directly get in touch with them to know more about the legal situation in your country and to find support.


Organization Country City
Argentinian Committee for Secular State Argentina Buenos Aires
Atheist Foundation Australia Australia Perth
Leaving Church Austria Wien
Apostasy in Bolivia Bolivia La Paz
Brazil Collective Apostasy Brazil Sao Paulo
Chilean Skeptic Association Chile Santiago de Chile
Atheist Bogotà Colombia Bogotà
Collective Apostasy Costa Rica San José
How to apostate Ecuador Quito
Religious Victims Support Association Finland Helsinki
Free Atheism France Paris
Leaving Church Germany Berlin
Atheist Union of Greece Greece Athens
Apostasy in Honduras Honduras Tegucigalpa
Manava Vikasa Vedika India Hyderabad
Aid Without Religion Trust India Mangalore
Atheist Ireland Ireland Dublin
Union of Rational Atheists and Agnostics Italy Rome
Alliance of Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics Luxembourg Luxembourg
How to apostate in Mexico Mexico Mexico City
Apostates of Islam Morocco Rabat
Humanist Assembly of Lagos Nigeria Lagos
Apostasy in Paraguay Paraguay Asunción
Atheist Association of Peru Peru Lima
Secular Humanist Society of Peru Peru Junín
Humanist Alliance Philippines, International Philippines Bacolod
Union of Atheists and Freethinkers Spain Barcelona
Europa Laica Spain Valencia
How to apostate Spain Madrid
Leaving Church Switzerland Zurich
Humanist Association for Leadership, Eequity and Accountability Uganda Kampala
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain United Kingdom Liverpool
Faith to faithless United Kingdom London
Greater Manchester Humanists United Kingdom Manchester
Ex-Muslims of North America United States Washington
Ex-Jehovah’s Critical Thinkers United States New York
Ex Jehovah’s Witnesses Support United States Miami
Center for Inquiry United States Amherst
Brighter Brains Institute United States Piedmont
Secular Policy Institute United States Washington
Apostasy in Uruguay Uruguay Montevideo
General Apostasy in Venezuela Venezuela Caracas

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