Egyptian committee seeks to criminalize atheism

The Committee on Religion in the Egyptian Parliament has disclosed plans to pass into law a bill that makes atheism a criminal offense.

Current law says atheists can be prosecuted for expressing their disbelief in public, but the committee’s proposal would go further and criminalize disbelief itself.

In 2014, shortly after Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi was sworn in as Egypt’s president, the government announced that it was preparing a national plan to crush atheism.

A few months later, Al-Shabab, a government-linked newspaper, stated that atheists were “the country’s second enemy after the Muslim Brotherhood” and quoted a psychologist saying that “atheism leads to mental imbalances and paranoia.”

Saudi Arabia adopted a similar position in 2014 when “promotion of atheist thought” became officially classified as an act of terrorism.

Bangladeshi social media activist detained

Bangladeshi immigration police detained Asaduzzaman Noor, known as Asad Noor on his YouTube channel, at Dhaka airport on Dec. 25.

Inspector Mohammad Shahidullah said hundreds of Muslims staged demonstrations against Noor in 2017 after the head of an Islamic seminary filed a case against him.

“The charge against him is that he hurt religious feeling by mocking Prophet Mohammed and made bad comments against Islam, the prophet and the Koran on Facebook and YouTube,” he said.

Noor was charged under Bangladesh’s strict internet laws and could face up to 14 years in jail if found guilty.

Rights groups have accused the Bangladesh government of muzzling dissent and targeting atheist bloggers who have used social media to criticize religion.

In 2013, four Bangladeshi bloggers were arrested after nationwide protests in which Islamic groups demanded the execution of atheist commentators. They were later freed.

In recent years, atheist and secular voices have been targeted by Islamist extremist groups, who have hacked to death a dozen bloggers, publishers and activists, and forced others to flee overseas.

In Malaysia, ‘active persecution’ of atheists

Malaysia has been singled out and listed among seven countries worldwide that practice “active persecution” of the nonreligious in a global index released Dec. 5, following a so-called “hunt” against atheists starting earlier this year.

In 2017’s Freedom of Thought Report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Malaysia was given a score of 4.5, with 5 being the worst possible score.

Malaysia had scored 4 for the categories of “Constitution and government” and “Education and children’s rights,” but 5 for “Family, community, society” and “Freedom of expression, humanist values.”

“This country is found to be declining, with human rights including freedom of thought and expression under serious assault,” the report said of Malaysia.

Shahidan Kassim, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, had said that in Malaysia, atheists should be “hunted down” by authorities.