Saturday, March 05, 2016

Bad countries persecute atheists

It is well known that Muslim-majority countries have a problem with atheists, particularly with those who have been Muslims and have renounced their faith. It is easily understandable. As Islamist theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi candidly stated in an Al-Jazeera show in 2013, the death penalty for those who leave Islam has been a necessity since the 15th century, because "if they had gotten rid of the apostasy punishment Islam wouldn't exist today".

Of course, the tendency can be observed in a pure form in Saudi Arabia. Last November, the Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh (35) was sentenced to death for renouncing Islam. As the Guardian reports, Mr. Fayadh "was originally sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes by the general court in Abha, a city in the south-west of the ultraconservative kingdom, in May 2014. But after his appeal was dismissed he was retried earlier this month and a new panel of judges ruled that his repentance did not prevent his execution." This sinister pattern of giving a severe sentence to an innocent person and then replacing it with an even more severe one after appeal is already familiar to us from the cases of Raif Badawi and his lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, both still in prison.

What about rogue non-Muslim countries such as Russia? One wouldn't expect persecution of atheists there. The traditional religion in Russia is Orthodox Christianity. The Christian establishment has been made unable to deal with atheists a long time ago (which of course has led to further secularization of Christian societies and to the decision of the likes of al-Qaradawi not to allow the same process in Muslim societies). Moreover, after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, Russia was made officially atheistic and its subjects could get in serious trouble just for owning a Bible.

However, non-democratic countries are notorious for easily switching from one extremity to its exact opposite. Putin's Russia has been demonstrating Orthodox fanaticism for some time, and this should not be dismissed as mere posturing. Christopher Miller reports in Mashable:

"Russian Viktor Krasnov, 38, could be jailed over an Internet exchange with two strangers in an online community during which he said that God doesn't exist. 

On Wednesday, Krasnov appeared in court in the southern city of Stavropol, where he stands accused of violating a 2013 law that made it a crime to offend the sentiments of religious people, news site Meduza reported. Lawmakers introduced the ban after Pussy Riot's infamous punk protest inside a Moscow cathedral and the trial that followed. If convicted, Krasnov could be sentenced to one year in a Russian prison. 

During the exchange in question, which occurred on the Russian social network Vkontakte (In Contact) in October 2014, Krasnov wrote, "There is no God"... Krasnov also used some derogatory words to describe Jews and called the Bible a "collection of Jewish fairy tales." But he's not in trouble with the law for those remarks. 

While Krasnov wrote the comments in 2014, charges were only brought against him in early 2015, and he didn't learn of them until April 2015, Meduza reported. Later, Krasnov was forced to spend a month in a psychiatric facility, where doctors observed his mental state, the MediaZona news site reported..."

It seems that in today's world, atheists are among the first groups of people to be targeted by rogue regimes, like miner's canaries.


Charles N. Steele said...

It is unacceptable to punish someone for saying or thinking something. The content of the words or thoughts is irrelevant; freedom of thought and freedom of speech are absolutes.

There more unpopular the idea, the better it serves as a canary, and the more diligently its proponents need to be protected.

Maya M said...

Yes! I am even against the laws banning Holocaust denial. Truth shouldn't be defended by force.