• Hacked to death for writing on justice and against extremism
  • Atheists jailed for
  • Assassinated for standing up against blasphemy laws
  • Unfair trial over church-state protest
  • Jailed for expressing their atheism
  • Jailed for blasphemy over a Facebook post
  • Sentenced to death for

The Freedom of Thought Report is an annual survey on discrimination and persecution against non-religious people in countries around the world. All the latest information is available in our Country Index.

The first report was published in 2012 on International Human Rights Day, 10 December. In his preface to the report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt (in post 2010-2016), said:

“As a universal human right, freedom of religion or belief has a broad application. However, there seems to be little awareness that this right also provides a normative frame of reference for atheists, humanists and freethinkers and their convictions, practices and organizations. I am therefore delighted that for the first time the Humanist community has produced a global report on discrimination against atheists. I hope it will be given careful consideration by everyone concerned with freedom of religion or belief.”

For the 2013 report we asked two victims of anti-atheist persecution to provide the introductory remarks. The cases of Kacem El Ghazzali and Alber Saber, from Morocco and Egypt respectively, also feature in the report. They said:

“In spite of international treaties and conventions, many states discriminate in subtler but important ways. And this has a global impact. Laws against “insulting” religion in relatively secure, relatively secular countries, for example, are not only analogues of the most vicious blasphemy laws anywhere in the world, but help to sustain the global norm under which thought is policed and punished.

We welcome this report. The world cannot fix these problems until they are laid bare.”

In 2014, in their preface, Gulalai Ismail and Agnes Ojera, both working to promote human rights in Pakistan and Uganda respectively, said:

“The rights of the non-religious, and the rights of religious minorities and non-conformists, are a touchstone for the freedoms of thought and expression at large. Discrimination and persecution against the non-religious in particular is very often bound up with political suppression, with fears about progressive values, or with oppression in the name of religion. Humanists and secularists are often among the first to ask questions, and to raise the alarm when human rights are being trampled, when religion is misused or abused, or — even with the best intentions — if religion has become part of the problem. Silence the non-religious, and you silence some of the leading voices of responsible concern in society.”

In 2015, following a series of gruesome murders of non-religious writers, bloggers and human rights activists in Bangladesh, targeted by Islamist militant groups for “insulting Islam”, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, whose husband was the first to be killed in this way that year, said:

“If there are lessons the world must draw from Bangladesh in recent years, they are these: Allowing bigotry and extremism to fester unchallenged will have generational consequences; Demands for prison or death sentences or vigilantism against humanists as such must be met not with appeasement nor by arresting the very bloggers under threat, but with condemnation as the gross violations of freedom of thought and expression that such demands represent; And that once a country silences and intimidates its intellectuals and freethinkers , a vicious cycle of terror and extremism becomes inevitable…”

In 2016, the new UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, wrote the foreword to the 2016 edition. He noted that “The right to freedom of religion or belief is a right that is frequently misunderstood by its conflation with narrowly defined views on religious freedom”, and that by reducing this right to ‘religious freedom’ alone was leaving the non-religious exposed to discrimination and persecution. He concluded:

“I therefore welcome the publication of the 2016 Report of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, documenting the situation of atheists, humanists and free-thinkers all over the world. From Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison in Saudi Arabia for alleged “blasphemy”; to Mohamed Cheikh Ould M’kheitir, who is facing the death penalty and incitement to murder in Mauritania for alleged “apostasy”; to Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the mayor of Jakarta who is accused of “blasphemy” amidst an election; to those secular bloggers savagely hacked to death in Bangladesh by vigilante groups; to the scores languishing in prison in Pakistan and Iran and elsewhere for expressing views deemed offensive to religious sentiment; persecution and victimization in the name of religion are both chilling and widespread.

The IHEU report is an important reminder that the right to freedom from religion or belief is as fundamental as the right to freedom of religion, and that the same human right protects freedom of non-religious thought and non-religious belief as well; and that for some humanists, atheists, free-thinkers and the unconcerned the protection of this right can mean the difference between life and death.”


On this site you can view the individual country reports from nation states around the world. You might want to start with understanding our assessment methodology. You can also find out more about the report or even make a submission.