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.
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.
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.
|Argentinian Committee for Secular State
|Atheist Foundation Australia
|Apostasy in Bolivia
|Brazil Collective Apostasy
|Chilean Skeptic Association
|Santiago de Chile
|How to apostate
|Religious Victims Support Association
|Atheist Union of Greece
|Apostasy in Honduras
|Manava Vikasa Vedika
|Aid Without Religion Trust
|Union of Rational Atheists and Agnostics
|Alliance of Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics
|How to apostate in Mexico
|Apostates of Islam
|Humanist Assembly of Lagos
|Apostasy in Paraguay
|Atheist Association of Peru
|Secular Humanist Society of Peru
|Humanist Alliance Philippines, International
|Union of Atheists and Freethinkers
|How to apostate
|Humanist Association for Leadership, Eequity and Accountability
|Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
|Faith to faithless
|Greater Manchester Humanists
|Ex-Muslims of North America
|Ex-Jehovah’s Critical Thinkers
|Ex Jehovah’s Witnesses Support
|Center for Inquiry
|Brighter Brains Institute
|Secular Policy Institute
|Apostasy in Uruguay
|General Apostasy in Venezuela
Discover the worldwide campaign to abolish "blasphemy" laws, everywhere