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Month: February 2012

To Human Rights Watch: Separation of religion from state is the most basic guarantee of rights

An Open Letter to Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch

Dear Kenneth Roth,

In your Introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2012, “Time to Abandon the Autocrats and Embrace Rights,” you urge support for the newly elected governments that have brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Tunisia and Egypt. In your desire to “constructively engage” with the new governments, you ask states to stop supporting autocrats. But you are not a state; you are the head of an international human rights organization whose role is to report on human rights violations, an honorable and necessary task which your essay largely neglects.

You say, “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but you fail to call for the most basic guarantee of rights—the separation of religion from the state. Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling. And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control. You, however, are so unconcerned with the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities that you mention them only once, as follows: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.” Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.

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Freedom for Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari

On 12 February, Malaysian police deported 23 year old Saudi columnist Hamza Kashgari, who fled Saudi Arabia after making comments on Twitter claimed by some to be “insulting” to the prophet Muhammad. There have been widespread calls from Islamists for his execution; in Saudi Arabia, blasphemy is punishable by death.

Theocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia will not tolerate the most basic freedom of thought and expression. We defend the right of everyone in the world to freely express their views, including to criticise religion. We condemn the Malaysian government for detaining Kashgari who had fled the country and handing him over to the Saudi authorities. We are also concerned to learn of reports that INTERPOL may have promulgated a Saudi government warrant for his arrest. The implications of this mean that no asylum seeker or refugee is free from persecution even after having fled.

We demand that the Saudi authorities immediately and unconditionally release Kashgari. He has not committed any crime.

To support the campaign, please sign the petition.

Join Free Hamza Facebook Page.

Initial Signatures:
Yanar Mohammed, President of Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Iraq
Houzan Mahmoud, Kurdish Women’s Rights Activist from Iraq, UK/Iraq
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, UKA C Grayling, Philosopher, UK
Ahlam Akram, Palestinian Peace and Human Rights Writer and Campaigner, Palestine/UK
Akram Nadir, Union Organizer in Iraq and Kurdistan, Iraq
Akram Zaki, Engineer, Iraq
Ali Salam Amil, Norway
Alison Brown, Alliance for Workers Liberty, UK
Alom Shaha, Writer, UK
Annie Sugier, Cofounder of the League of Women’s International Rights, France
Ariane Brunet, co-founder, Urgent Action Fund, USA
Caroline Fourest, Writer, Editor-in-Chief of ProChoix, France
Charles Pottins, Jewish Socialists’ Group, UK
Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, Philosopher, Writer, France
Eli Vieira Araujo Júnior, President, Secular Humanist League of Brazil, Brazil
Evan Darraji, Writer & Artist, Iraq
Evan Siegel, Translator
Evelyne Accad, Academic
Fariborz Pooya, Iranian Secular Society, UK
Faris Alkamil, Writer and Journalist, Iraq
Farzana Hassan, Author, Canada
Ghanim Alotaibi, Kuwait
Gita Sahgal, Executive Director, Centre for Secular Space, UK
Glyn Harries, Hackney Community and Trade Union Activist, UK
Gona Saed, Women’s Rights Activist, UK
Hameeda Hossain, Women’s Rights Activist, Bangladesh
Harem Karem, Editor of Kurdistan Tribune
Harry Kroto, Professor of Chemistry, Nobel Prize Winner, USA/UK
Hassan Radwan, Trustee, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, UK
Ibn Warraq, Writer, USA
Intisar Khalil, Canada
Joan Smith, Columnist, UK
Joanne Royston, Abolition UK, UK
Julie Bindel, Writer, UK
Laura Guidetti, Marea Review, Italy
Leo Igwe, Founder, Nigerian Humanist Society, Nigeria
Lilian Halls French, Co-President, IFE-EFI, France
Maria Arvantiti Sotiropoulou, Author and President of the Greek Affiliate of IPPNW
Maria Hagberg, International Women’s Rights Activist, Iraq/Sweden
Marieme Helie Lucas, Coordinator, Secularism is a Women’s Issue, France
Mark Osborn, Alliance for Workers Liberty, UK
Mazin AlYasery, Journalist
Meghna Guhathakurta, Researcher, Bangladesh
Meredith Tax, US Director, Centre for Secular Space, USA
Mina Ahadi, International Committee against Stoning, Germany
Nick Doody, Comedian, UK
Nicola Stott, Centre for Women’s Studies, York, UK
Nicolas Dessaux, Solidarité Irak, France
Ophelia Benson, Writer and Blogger, USA
Patrick Smith, University College Union, UK
Patty Debonitas, Iran Solidarity, UK
Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner, UK
Polly Toynbee, Writer, UK
Pragna Patel, Founder, Southall Black Sisters, UK
Rafid Hamady, Iraq
Rafiq Mahmood, Writer, Indonesia
Rahila Gupta, Writer, UK
Rega Rauf, Writer and Women’s Rights Activist, Sweden
Richard Dawkins, Scientist, UK
Roberto Malini, writer, Co-President, EveryOne Group, Italy
Ronald A. Lindsay, Chief Executive Officer, Center for Free Inquiry, USA
Roy Brown, International Humanist and Ethical Union, UK
Russell Blackford, Philosopher and Writer, Australia
Sacha Ismael, Alliance for Workers Liberty, UK
Saeed Arman, International Organisation of Iranian Refugees, UK
Salman Rushdie, Writer, UK
Sam Mahmoud, Designer
Shabana Rehman, Comedian, Norway
Shahla Nouri, Women´s Rights Activist from Iran, Sweden
Soad Baba Aissa, Feminist Activist for Laïcity, France
Stasa Zajovic, Women in Black of Belgrade and Serbian Network, Serbia
Stéphane Julien, Solidarité Irak, France
Tarek Fateh, Writer, Canada
Tauriq Moosa, Writer, South Africa
Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society, UK
Xulfi Marxis, Activist
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Writer, UK

11 February: An important stand for free expression

One Law for All held a successful rally in defence of free expression on Saturday 11 February 2012 opposite the Houses of Parliament. Hundreds braved the cold weather to join the rally at Old Palace Yard.

The rally followed several incidents in London recently where freedom of expression was curtailed in favour of fear of causing offence. In one incident, a talk on sharia law by One Law for All’s Anne Marie Waters was cancelled following threats of violence. Rhys Morgan was told by his school to remove a picture of Jesus and Mo from his Facebook page – a picture he had used in solidarity with the University College London Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society who had been asked by their student union to remove the same image. Both UCL and the London School of Economics have since passed draconian motions which will further restrict religious criticism or satire at their schools.

Speakers at the rally included A C Grayling, Nick Cohen, Caroline Cox, Gita Sahgal, Keith Porteous Wood, and Rhys Morgan.

The event was sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK and featured Richard Dawkins who told the crowd to ‘stop being so damn respectful’ and that without freedom of speech, society would be a ‘scientific, technological, moral dark age’.

Maryam Namazie of One Law for All closed the rally by remembering those, around the world, who are fighting for freedom of expression, often at cost of their lives.

You can listen to a podcast of the London rally here and see videos of the event here.

Actions to mark the occassion were also held in other cities, including Germany, Portugal and South Africa. Some highlights included a solidarity rally in Warsaw, Poland, a fundraising dinner for One Law for All in Melbourne, Australia and the start of a campaign by Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights in France to denounce discrimination faced by women due to the application of unfair laws in France.

The Free Expression Day of Action was endorsed by hundreds of people and organisations.

As a follow up to the day, One Law for All has initiated a campaign in defence of 23 year old writer, Hamza Kashgari, who faces execution in Saudi Arabia for tweeting about Mohammad, Islam’s prophet. To support the campaign, click here.

Some photos of the London rally can be found below. More to follow.

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