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.

Countries punishing apostasy with death penalty

However, in 12 countries around the world “apostasy”, which is the act of leaving religion, is punishable by death.These countries are: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

In at least a further 7 countries, apostasy is punishable with a prison sentence: Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam, Comoros, Gambia, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman.

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). 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 map 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.

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