Atheists living in 13 countries risk being condemned to death, just for their beliefs (or non-belief) according to a new, comprehensive report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union out on Tuesday. All 13 countries identified by the study are Muslim majority.
The countries that impose these penalties are Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. With the exception of Pakistan, those countries all allow for capital punishment against apostasy, i.e., the renunciation of a particular religion. Pakistan, meanwhile, imposes the death penalty for blasphemy, which can obviously include disbelief in God.
The study's interactive map gives a good, broad, overview of which countries punish apostasy and blasphemy by death (black), with prison time (red), or place legal restrictions on (non-)religious speech and thought (yellow):
The report is a more comprehensive version of a similar study released last year that identified just seven countries where atheists faced capital punishment, only half of this year's total. It also found much more widespread discrimination against atheists around the world.
"Our results show that the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers," the study explains, noting that laws in some countries prevent atheists from marrying, attending public school, participating as a citizen, holding public office, or just existing at all. The authors, citing a Gallup study, estimate that about 13 percent of the world's population is atheist, while 23 percent identify as simply "not religious."
Although not on the list of 13, Bangladesh receives some special attention in the report as a particular low-light. Several non-religious and atheist bloggers and journalists in the country have faced death threats and harassment this year in the wake of a series of government prosecutions for blasphemy.
One blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was murdered with a machete outside of his home. The report also incorporates assessment of general free speech protections in each country.
Russia earned significant criticism in part because of its anti-LGBT "propaganda" laws. And North Korea, an aggressively secular state, received the report's lowest rating of "Grave Violations."
Because of the U.S.'s strong constitutional free speech protections and lack of an official state religion, the country fared moderately well in the report, earning a "mostly satisfactory" rating. But the IHEU had some cautionary notes on how atheists are actually treated in the U.S., criticizing "a range of laws that limit the role of atheists in regards to public duties, or else entangle the government with religion to the degree that being religious is equated with being an American, and vice versa." Those laws include constitutional provisions still on the books in seven states (Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) barring atheists from holding public office. The authors add:
While there is some legal remedy for clear religious discrimination by the government, it can often go unchallenged in situations where it is difficult, or personally disadvantageous or hazardous, to take a stand against authority, for example in prisons, the military, and even some administrative contexts.
So, which countries earned a somewhat elusive "free and equal" rating from the IHEU? The best-ranked countries included Jamaica, Uruguay, Japan, Taiwan, and Belgium.