At the European Parliament in Brussels, The Freedom of Thought Report by Humanists International revealed that the human rights of non-religious people are being threatened while the world remains divided on blasphemy and apostasy laws, “with many states still enforcing these laws, and several states actively tightening or introducing new ‘blasphemy’ legislation in the past few years”.

The 2019 edition celebrates the fact that eight countries have actually abolished ‘blasphemy’ laws in the past five years, but it also warns of a growing divide on the issue. Globally, 69 countries still retain such laws and the penalties and prosecution of minority religious groups are hardening in a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The two Sunni Muslim nations were named by the report as “perennial” blasphemy prosecutors.

Despite the well-publicised release of Christian farm-worker Asia Bibi, the ongoing imprisonment of several accused atheists and many others in Pakistan, as well as extrajudicial violence against both humanists and religious minorities related to blasphemy accusations, is a troubling trend that must be condemned, according to the report.

The Report also highlights a deterioration in other countries. Both Brunei and Mauritania have actually increased the penalties for ‘blasphemy’ and ‘apostasy’ in the past two years.

Brunei’s new 2019 penal code renders blasphemy and apostasy, as well as other crimes like adultery and homosexuality, that are now punishable by death. Mauritania introduced a mandatory death sentence for blasphemy and apostasy in April 2018.

High-profile ‘blasphemy’ prosecutions are also cited as a cause for concern in Indonesia, as is the backlash against demonstrators protesting forced hijab in Iran, and prosecutions and intercommunal violence related to Hindutva beliefs demonstrates a deteriorating situation in India.

Europe does not entirely escape criticism, despite the overall positive trend in the region, with Italy and Spain singled out for prosecutions against artists and protesters in recent years.

“Blasphemy and apostasy laws are an injustice in themselves, but they also lend false legitimacy to those who commit acts of murder and terrorism in their name. As our report notes, when governments prosecute under these laws it only exacerbates the problems of religious extremism. Repealing these laws as per the human rights treaty obligations that nearly all countries are signed up to must be a priority,” said Humanists International President Andrew Copson.