The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is “deeply disturbed” by the use of blasphemy and apostasy laws against non-religious people such as Mubarak Bala, one of its top diplomats has told the Rationalist Society of Australia.
In a letter to the RSA (see the letter below), Deputy Secretary Kathy Klugman said the department had made diplomatic representations in Nigeria, where Mr Bala (pictured), the President of the Humanist Society of Nigeria, has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for blasphemy.
“We are deeply disturbed by the use of blasphemy and apostasy laws to discriminate against individuals, like Mr Bala, for their freedom of expression and beliefs,” said Ms Klugman.
“Australia strongly advocates in bilateral, multilateral and development forums for freedom of religion or belief, including the freedom to adopt, change or leave a religion.”
Mr Bala was arrested in April 2020 after making a series of Facebook posts that allegedly insulted Islam. Humanist and non-religious communities worldwide have condemned a court’s decision earlier this year to sentence him to prison.
Ms Klugman said Australia joined with the United Kingdom and the European Union in September last year in taking diplomatic action in Abuja.
In early April, RSA President Meredith Doig wrote to DFAT’s Secretary Kathryn Campbell to ask what Australian diplomacy was doing to assist people like Mr Bala who are persecuted due to their lack of religious belief.
In her letter to DFAT, Dr Doig said Australia should contribute in “meaningful ways to international efforts to promote freedom of thought, conscience and belief, including protecting the rights of non-believers.”
Deputy Secretary Kathy Klugman said Australia advocates for freedom of religion and belief in a number of international settings.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Image: Humanists UK
Letter from Kathy Klugman, Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 26 April 2022
Dear Dr Doig
Thank you for your email of 6 April in relation to the sentencing of Mr Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Society of Nigeria, for blasphemy.
We are deeply disturbed by the use of blasphemy and apostasy laws to discriminate against individuals, like Mr Bala, for their freedom of expression and beliefs. Australia strongly advocates in bilateral, multilateral and development forums for freedom of religion or belief, including the freedom to adopt, change or leave a religion.
At the 49th United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) Session in March 2022, Australia co-sponsored two resolutions promoting the right to freedom of religion or belief. At the 46th UN HCR Session in March 2021, Australia presented a joint statement with 51 states condemning the use of the death penalty as a punishment for blasphemy and apostasy.
Australia is also a member of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA), a group of 35 like-minded countries committed to advancing freedom of religion or belief globally. In 2021, Australia led an IRFBA steering group to advocate for ending the death penalty as a punishment for blasphemy or apostasy. In the same year, Australia commissioned the Eleos Justice report, Killing in the name of God, which shed light on the 12 countries which retain the death penalty for religious crimes.
Australia continues to make diplomatic representations to assist individuals persecuted for their beliefs. In September 2020, Australia made representations on Mr Bala’s case in a demarche with the UK and EU in Abuja.
I trust this information is of assistance.