Posted: 2020-03-03

Blasphemy is still punishable by death in 6 countries and expressing atheism is punishable by death in 13.

THE 2019 edition of the Freedom of Thought Report, published by Humanists International in November, has found that blasphemy is punishable by death in 6 countries. 18 countries outlaw 'apostasy' – leaving a religious tradition – and in 12 of them it is punishable by death. The report says people can effectively be put to death for expressing atheism in 13 countries.

The worst offenders are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and the report adds that says freedom of thought is par- ticularly penalised by Islamic penal codes and sharia-influenced laws. Accused atheists suffer from ongo- ing imprisonment and extrajudicial violence in Pakistan – despite the high-profile release of Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy. It notes that criticism of Pakistan's blasphemy law is often denounced as itself an act of blas- phemy, meaning critics are at risk of condemnation and even assassina- tion.

It identifies several countries where freedom of thought is deteriorating. They include Brunei, Mauritania, Indonesia, Iran and India.

The countries that have repealed blasphemy laws in the past five years are Norway, Iceland, Malta, the Alsace-Moselle region of France, Denmark, Canada, New Zealand and Greece. The report finds a general trend of a gradual decline in religious belief around the world, except for the Middle East and Africa.