‘Blasphemy’: Increased Attacks on Freethinkers

On 16 March, ex-Muslim atheist H Farook, a father of two, was hacked to death in India. He was known to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) Sri Lanka affiliate organisation and was killed for his views. Several men have been arrested for his murder.

In Pakistan, Ayaz Nizami and Rana Noman were arrested by the government on 22 March. A report in a Pakistani paper says they were arrested for uploading “blasphemous content”, including on “Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan and CEMB forum” sites.  This follows the Pakistani government’s request that Facebook and Twitter help identify those suspected of blasphemy so it can prosecute them or pursue their extradition. The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) is extremely concerned for the safety and welfare of freethinkers in Pakistan and elsewhere. The government of Pakistan (and also Facebook and Twitter) must be reminded that the right to religion has a corresponding right to be free from religion and that blasphemy and apostasy are a part and parcel of free conscience and expression, not crimes.

This is something that the BBC needs reminding, too, given that its Asian Network asked: “What is the right punishment for blasphemy,” as if blasphemy should be a punishable offence. (The BBC was forced to apologise after widespread condemnation). The normalisation of de jure or de facto blasphemy laws and accusations of Islamophobia when religion is criticised have created a climate where Islamic states feel free to persecute freethinkers with impunity. Motions such as the anti-Islamophobia motion passed by the Canadian parliament are no different to de facto blasphemy laws, which aim to silence critics of Islam and ex-Muslims. It’s crucial that we defend blasphemers and apostates unequivocally and ensure that freedom of conscience and expression are upheld for all – believers and nonbelievers alike.

Safe Spaces and Freedom of Expression

Ironically, de facto blasphemy laws continue to apply at many universities in Britain and elsewhere, including under the guise of “safe spaces.” According to a recent report, more than nine in ten UK universities are restrictive of free speech. As spokesperson for CEMB, I continue to face restrictions of varying degrees, which are now more covert though no less sinister, including recent restrictions at Westminster, LSE and Goldsmiths. I have discussed the adverse effects of safe spaces on free expression (in particular for minorities within minorities), alongside Sarah Haidar of Ex-Muslims of North America at a recent Centre for Inquiry Women in Secularism conference. My speech on the veil and women’s resistance is also available for viewing.

For more in depth coverage and interviews on apostasy, blasphemy and more, watch Maryam and Fariborz Pooya’s weekly taboo-breaking TV programme, Bread and Roses in Persian and English, which has been deemed “immoral” and “corrupt” by the Islamic regime in Iran.


Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born writer and activist.

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