Over a dozen people in ten countries have been arrested for acts of
"blasphemy" on social media networks this year, according to the
International Humanist and Ethical Union.
Their new report,
which the organization describes as the first of its kind, takes a
closer look at freedom of conscience laws in 60 countries around the
world, including Canada. It has tracked, among other things, an uptick
in the number of non-religious people being targeted for their
activities on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
more people are able to share their thoughts with a public audience, it
seems that more people are able to take offense at those thoughts and to
provide public proof of them," the authors note, adding that some
governments even go after those who "like" or re-tweet other people's
The group highlights several specific cases, including that of an
Egyptian teen sentenced to three years in jail for posting "blasphemous"
cartoons online and a Greek man charged with "insulting religion" after
creating a Facebook page that poked fun at believing in miracles.
trend of prosecuting blasphemies on social media sites, they note, is
"most marked" - but not exclusive to - Muslim majority countries.
"Across the world the reactionary impulse to punish new ideas,
or in some cases the merest expression of disbelief, recurs again and
again," the report's editor, Matt Cherry, said in a statement.
But social media isn't the only arena in which non-religious people are met with hostility or outright violence.
The report also argues that non-believers are increasingly being
targeted by groups who seek to ban them from raising children, marrying
believers and entering politics, among other things. The organization
says atheists could even face execution in Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives,
Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
While the report notes that Canada's constitution and legal
system largely protect freedom of belief, the authors take issue with
public funding of religious, largely Roman Catholic schools - some of
which they say discriminate against qualified but non-religious teachers
or can exclude non-religious students.