Australian international diplomacy should include protecting the rights of non-religious people, the Rationalist Society of Australia has told the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
In a letter to DFAT Secretary Kathryn Campbell this week, RSA President Meredith Doig raised the plight of 37-year-old Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Society of Nigeria, who has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for blasphemy.
Mr Bala (pictured), who renounced Islam in 2014, had been arrested in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria, in April 2020 after making a series of Facebook posts that allegedly insulted Islam. In a surprise move in court this week – and reportedly under pressure from religious authorities – he changed his plea to guilty.
Humanists International strongly condemned the ruling, saying it represented a “day of shame” for Nigeria.
In her letter (see below), Dr Doig asked Ms Campbell what Australia diplomacy does to assist people like Mr Bala who are persecuted due to their lack of religious belief.
“Australia should contribute in meaningful ways to international efforts to promote freedom of thought, conscience and belief, including protecting the rights of non-believers,” wrote Dr Doig.
Australia is committed to “promoting and protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief for all”, according to the DFAT website.
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 to Secretary Kathryn Campbell, 6 April 2022
I write about the plight of Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Society of Nigeria, who has been sentenced to 24 years in prison for blasphemy.
The case has received prominent media coverage:
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom identifies Mr Bala as a prisoner of conscience. Special Procedures Experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council have stated previously that “The arrest and detention of Mr Bala amounts to persecution of non-believers in Nigeria.”
The DFAT website states that “Australia is committed to promoting and protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief for all.” However, the most recent ‘recent statement’ is from 2020.
Australia should contribute in meaningful ways to international efforts to promote freedom of thought, conscience and belief, including protecting the rights of non-believers.
Could you please advise:
- What work Australia does in international fora to promote the rights and freedoms of non-believers;
- What work Australia does in international fora to advocate the abolition of the crime of blasphemy; and
- What work Australia does diplomatically to assist individuals like Mr Bala who are persecuted due to their lack of religious belief.
I look forward to your response.
Dr Meredith Doig OAM
President, Rationalist Society of Australia