A three-hour online protest took place on 4 April reaching out to thousands on social media to highlight the urgent plight of Soheil Arabi in prison in Iran since 2013. Arabi was initially sentenced to death for “insulting the prophet.” He was eventually acquitted of this charge and his sentence reduced on appeal to seven and a half years in prison, a two-year travel ban and two years of religious study to evaluate his repentance upon his release. He was then sentenced to lashes, an additional 3 years prison and a fine for “insulting Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic” and “propaganda against the regime.” Arabi has been seriously tortured and in need of urgent medical attention. This urgent action took place while he is currently on hunger strike to protest the injustice of his case, the denial of medical attention and leave due to Coronavirus, the torture and mistreatment of political prisoners and prison conditions, amongst others. You can read more about his case here.
The protest was hosted by Veedu Vidz, Shahin Mohamadi and Maryam Namazie and was the first online protest of its kind in both Persian and English.
Those joining the online protest included Activist Abbas Mohamadpour, Activist Armin Enayati, Activist Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, Cemal Knudsen Yucel of Ex-Muslims of Norway, Actress Elika Ashoori, Activist Faryad Ostovar, Youtuber Fay Rahman, Poet Halima Salat, Council of Ex-Muslims of Scandinavia’s Hamed Jamali and Milad Resaeimanesh, Lawyer Iman Soleymani Amiri, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s Jimmy Bangash, Artist Mahshad Afshar, Iran Tribunal London Spokesperson Mersedeh Ghaedi, Activist Mohsen Safarelahi, Marea Review Editor Monica Lanfranco, Activist Peyman Partovi, Rishvin Ismath of Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka, Poet Rock N Roll Sailor, Activist Samaneh Nateghi, Council of Ex-Muslims of Netherlands Savalan Ghodsi who also did a performance for Soheil, Activist Shabnam Shajarizadeh, Activist Shakila Salimi, Women’s Rights Activist Shaparak Shajarizadeh and Zara Kay of Faithless Hijabi.
Many sent messages or acts of solidarity, including Our House Founder Arash Hampay, Codou Bop – Human Rights Defender from Senegal, Filmmaker Deeyah Khan, Freethought Lebanon, Spokesperson of One Law for All Gita Sahgal, Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation Founder Halaleh Taheri, Harris Sultan, Australian ex-Muslim atheist of Pakistani descent, Ibtissame Betty Lachgarof MALI, Founder of Secularism is a Women’s Issue Marieme Helie Lucas, Atheist Ireland’s Michael Nugent, Youtuber Mimzy Vidz, Activist Mina Ahadi, Muslimish, Nada Perat Radfrau of Centre for Civil Courage, Human Rights Activist Nazanin Afshin Jam, Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell, Pragna Patel – Director of Southall Black Sisters, Writer and Activist Rahila Gupta, Founder of Atheist Refugee Relief Rana Ahmad, Robyn E. Blumner – President and CEO, Center for Inquiry and Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, Saadiq Samad – Coordinator, Ex-Muslims of Tamil Nadu, India, Shuddhashar, Former Charlie Hebdo Journalist Zineb El Rhazoui…
See some of the MESSAGES OF SOLIDARITY can be seen below:
Our House Founder Arash Hampay
Codou Bop, Human Rights Defender from Senegal: I am a woman human right defender from Senegal in West Africa. I would be very grateful to you if you could send my strong support to Soheil Arabi for his struggle for his right for freedom of faith and being whatever he wants to be. Please tell him that I feel very sad about his situation and I hope that with the support from people who believe that it is his right to be atheist, he will very soon regain his freedom.
Filmmaker Deeyah Khan: This message goes to Soheil and all the other brave people campaigning for freedom of belief and expression from me and all at Fuuse. Soheil, we support you. We deplore the violence perpetrated against you. We admire your courage and your determination against the Iranian regime. We will not let your struggle go unnoticed. We will not allow your message to be silenced. We call on everyone to join us in the campaign for Freedom for Soheil! In solidarity
Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation Founder Halaleh Taheri
Gita Sahgal, Spokesperson of One Law for All: I’m sending a picture of rosemary for remembrance. For atheists and all political prisoners in Iran. Soheil, we remember you. We call for your freedom. We stand with you and the people of Iran protesting against a cruel government which has put their lives at risk. We look forward to the day when you are free.
Artist Mahshad Afshar
Marieme Helie Lucas, Founder of Secularism is a Women’s Issue: Repression of free thought is something that belongs to the dark ages. The Iranian regime is cynically using religion to impose itself upon people. Neither sincere believers in Islam, nor secularists, agnostics and atheists can condone the eradication of our most fundamental human rights: freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. Mollahs! you don’t speak for the people as street demonstrations have made clear in the past few months! and you don’t even speak for believers as you pretend! I salute the courage and persistence of Soheil Arabi in defending our right to blasphemy, which is what is left to us when our freedom from religion is taken away from us. Free Soheil Arabi! Long live free thought!
Atheist Ireland’s Michael Nugent:
Human Rights Activist Nazanin Afshin Jam: During this time of isolation and just having passed Easter weekend I can’t help but reflect on how blessed I feel to be able to practice my faith in freedom. I am thinking about prisoners of conscience like Soheil Arabi who have received death sentences in Iran simply for being an atheist and questioning Islam and the supreme leader of Iran ayatollah Khamenei. Freedom of religion includes the choice not to believe in a higher power is a fundamental human right. And expressing this is freedom of expression, also a fundamental human right. It is not a crime and certainly cannot be used by a state to condemn someone to death by hanging. The United Nations and freedom loving people worldwide must do everything in their power to save the life of Soheil and other prisoners of conscience in Iran. Not only are they suffering grave human rights abuses in jail and heavy sentences and fines but now their lives are in jeopardy in their crowded jail cells with the threat of the spread of coronavirus. I stand with Soheil Arabi.
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters: Dear Soheil, I do not know you but you know all of us because you are fighting for all of us. For our freedoms, our dignity and for our humanity. Today I am thinking of you and all the political prisoners of conscience in Iran and around the world. Thank you for your bravery and courage. Thank you for standing up for all of us. Thank you for standing up for freedom of expression and conscience. I know that in your prison cell, surrounded by the forces of torture and inhumanity, a mere ‘thank you’ is not enough. But I hope that by registering my voice of protest, I will join the voices of the many in resistance in the hope that our voices will grow so loud and strong that even the brutal Iranian regime will no longer be able to ignore us. Martin Luther Kind once said ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. My friend, I stand with you in solidarity in your fight to be free from injustice.
Writer and Activist Rahila Gupta:
Activist Rana Ahmad:
Robyn E. Blumner, President and CEO, Center for Inquiry and Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science: The Center for Inquiry stands for reason, science, and secular values around the world. We support Soheil Arabi’s right to speak out on behalf of atheism and against theocracy and religious dogma. We support his quest for freedom of conscience, his right to question and criticize religion, and we find his continued confinement and mistreatment for simply exercising that freedom to be an outrage that the world is rightly judging.
Saadiq Samad, Coordinator, Ex-Muslims of Tamil Nadu, India: We have experienced the cruelty of Islam in 2017 and after the murder of Farook, most of us here are not ready to come to public. So we can send only this message. We can understand the pain of Sohail Arabi and his family. Ex-Muslims of Tamil Nadu, India supports the protest.
PLEASE SIGN PETITIONS HERE AND HEREand continue to fight for the freedom of Soheil Arabi, all other political prisoners in Iran and those across the world being held because of their conscience and expression.
The event was opened by MC Nahla Mahmoud and began with a screening of the stunning film: “No Longer Without You”, a documentary about a searing conversation about parenthood, tradition, religion, sex, and independence between a free-spirited daughter, Nazmiye Oral and her traditional Muslim mother, Havva in the intimate circle of a living room in front of their family following several public performances.
This was followed by a panel discussion with Actress Nazmiye Oral, Youtuber Fay Rahman, Journalist Khadija Khan, Student Activist Saff Khalique, Clinical Psychologist Savin Bapir-Tardy and Født Fri (Born Free) Foundation Director Shabana Rehman. Chair: CEMB Spokesperson Maryam Namazie.
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) was formed to break the taboo that comes with leaving Islam, highlight the plight of and support ex-Muslims, and challenge Sharia, apostasy and blasphemy laws. CEMB stands against all forms of bigotry, xenophobia, racism and extremism and unequivocally defends reason, freedom of conscience and expression, equality, universal rights and secularism.
SUPPORT AND ASSISTANCE
CEMB is now supporting around 600 ex-Muslims rather than 300 a month. 50% of our caseload are outside of the UK. 25% are ex-Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. 25% are British ex-Muslims. The majority of ex-Muslims who contact CEMB are closeted due to the risks they face. The ex-Muslims who are out are still a very small minority.
With our international cases, the consequences of blasphemy or apostasy can be a death sentence. The result of someone finding out is often violence and sadly, this can involve violence or abuse from family as well as the state. In many cases, it is loved ones that report their family members to the police.
In Britain, the consequences of blasphemy and apostasy manifests itself as honour-based violence, forced marriages, corrective rape and even honour killings (in an attempt to bring ex-Muslims “back into line”).
Our free support includes face-to-face, email and social media contacts, as well as monthly support groups in London and Birmingham, a monthly Social for isolated members, direct support services such as attending court hearings, writing letters of support, contacting housing and social services for young people at risk, working with the Forced Marriages Unit to prevent young women and girls being taken abroad for forced marriage and so on.
We hold monthly meet ups. This year, topics under discussion included female genital mutilation and male circumcision, leaving faith behind, shunning, mental health and apostasy and religion, misogyny and atheism.
Ana Gonzales, a Partner at Wilsons LLP conducts regular workshops on asylum rights and apostasy for asylum seeking ex-Muslims.
On the left is a photo of our arts meetup with artist Salma Zulfiqar who focused on empowering refugees through art.
CAMPAIGNS AND ACTIONS 2019
10 December, International Human Rights Day
For International Human Rights Day, we initiated a social media campaign to show that ex-Muslim rights are human rights. #Apostate #ExMuslim #Human #ApostasyIsAHumanRight
22 November, Statement in Support of protests in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon
In November, the International Ex-Muslim Coalition mobilised in solidarity with the protests in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, including by issuing a statement calling of the support of protests, which have been anti-clerical and deeply secular as well as women-led.
27 October, Campaign to establish the first ex-Muslim refuge in the world
CEMB began a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the first emergency shelter for ex-Muslims in order to provide accommodation and support in the UK to those at serious risk to their lives because of their apostasy from Islam. Until now, CEMB has been forced to provide limited emergency accommodation at hotels, which is neither practical nor cost-effective.
With this crowdfunding campaign, CEMB hopes to provide a long-term and safe solution for those at greatest risk by establishing the first ex-Muslim refuge in the world. Purchase of a refuge space, as well as maintenance and utilities will cost £300,000. Whilst we realise this is an insurmountable amount, any money raised here will be used to provide emergency accommodation and support to those at greatest risk with the aim of working towards the first permanent refuge for ex-Muslims.
More information on the JustGiving campaign can be found here. We have also started a Patreon campaign for those who wish to support our efforts for emergency shelter on a monthly basis.
30 September, International #BlasphemyDay, #EndBlasphemyLaws #BlasphemyNotACrime
August/September, Celebrating Dissent Festival at De Balie Amsterdam
The epic ‘Celebrating Dissent’ Festival took place between 30 August -1 September in Amsterdam, a collaboration between the prestigious art and debate institute De Balie and Maryam Namazie. More than 50 speakers from 30 countries worldwide joined a mixture of intense, conversations, comedy, art, poetry and dance performances, films, lectures and protest.
To highlight the dangers facing dissenters, a public protest of 160 balloons (left) with the names of those persecuted or murdered for blasphemy and apostasy was held. Participants at the Festival carried balloons to a nearby square and chalked the names of dissenters into the pavement as a memorial of sorts.
The historic event was an astounding celebration of apostasy, blasphemy and dissent. From the moment the city’s Mayor, Femke Halsema, opened the festival by welcoming ‘heretics, infidels and renegades,’ it was clear that this would be a historic and remarkable festival committed not only to defending free thought and expression but also the lives and freedoms of dissenters.
On 4 July, CEMB organised an evening on LGBT Rights, Apostasy and Blasphemy as part of Pride in London Festival with a film screening of ‘Ferdous’ by Shakila Taranum Maan followed by a panel discussion with Jimmy Bangash (CEMB Spokesperson), Khakan Qureshi (Birmingham South Asians LGBT Founder), Nadia El Fani (Tunisian Filmmaker), Sadia Hameed (CEMB Spokesperson), Shakila Taranum Maan (British Director) and Syed Isteak Hossain Shawon (Bangladeshi LGBT activist and Editor of Boys Love World). Facilitated by Maryam Namazie (CEMB and One Law for All Spokesperson). Kenyan Somali Poet Halima Salat ended the evening with her poem called A Boy, A Village, A Death.
On 6 July 2019 CEMB marched in Pride London for the 3rd time as an organisation. This year, we marked the 40th anniversary of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a rebellion against the church’s religious morality, by marching as the Imams of Perpetual Indulgence. Instead of being the Council for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice that terrorise people by enforcing Islamic morality codes with brute force in the countries some of us have fled from, we were the Council for the Promotion of Vice and the Prevention of Virtue. Our imams were not the usual imams promoting death for thinking and loving freely but instead included dissenting topless women who subverted Islamic morality language by being Imams of Vice, Lust, Kofr, Zina…
Unsurprisingly, as in previous years, social media erupted with threats and intimidation because as always apostasy and blasphemy are considered worse than the murder of LGBT, apostates and blasphemers. Some “Sheikh” has even called for a joint statement of imams against CEMB because apparently, he fears “the punishment of Allah will descend.” And as usual, we have been accused of “Islamophobia.”
Photographs of women sitting on the ground in a public park with legs akimbo were in solidarity with women across the world who are being sexually assaulted for fighting for their rights and told to ‘sit properly’, ‘be decent’ and threatened with rape for claiming the right to their bodies. It was in particular a show of solidarity with women involved in the aurat march in Pakistan. See video of the action here.
CEMB focused on #PeriodsAreNatural in order to break the taboo that comes with women’s periods. This caused a huge uproar and started a much-needed discussion.
February 6, No to FGM Day
For zero tolerance to Female genital mutilation (FGM) day, we handed out roses that had been stapled shut, along with flyers explaining FGM, the harms of it and how to support someone that is at risk, or has experienced FGM. We received much public support and had some good discussions on the issue with the public.
February 1, No Hijab Day
For Hijab Day, we organised in a 3-hour live podcast, with over half a dozen women worldwide, discussing the harms of modesty culture and the veil.
January 21, Refugee Too
CEMB organised a #RefugeeToo protest outside the Home Office in order to highlight the fact that ex-Muslims are also refugees. This campaign linked into the plight of the Saudi woman and ex-Muslim Rahaf who was able to get asylum in Canada after locking herself in her hotel room in Thailand when authorities tried to deport her back to Saudi Arabia. The campaign highlighted a number of activist cases to show the absurd reasons given for rejecting apostates and how at risk they are.
International Coalition of Ex-Muslims
After the De Balie Celebrating Dissent Festival in Amsterdam, we organised a strategy meeting of the International Coalition of Ex-Muslims on 2 September 2019. Our coalition continues to work together on campaigns such as against blasphemy laws and on International Women’s Day, against Facebook and Twitter bans, e.g. ban of Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka’s Facebook page and on urgent actions like in the cases of calling on the Egyptian government to allow atheist Ahmed Harkan to leave the country, demanding the unconditional immediate release of Mohamed Rusthum Mujuthaba in the Maldives and helping get Hisham Mohamed, the Egyptian who said he was an atheist on live TV and was abused and kicked off the show and faced death threats to reach safety in Germany.
On 4 November, CEMB trained Malaysian officials (left) around the issues of blasphemy and apostasy. The Malaysian officials said that this was the first time they had ever interacted with atheists and that even homosexuality is considered more normal/common than atheism in Malaysia.
CEMB holds fast defying protests outside embassies of countries that prosecute people for eating during Ramadan, an action that led to being filmed and threatened outside the Pakistani embassy and armed police approaching our protestors outside the Saudi embassy.
In April and October, we held “Coming Out” parties where people received their apostasy certificates. The parties are one way of seeing people’s coming out as a cause for celebration rather than vilification and a source of shame.
In October, CEMB conducted a training for 11 Malaysian government officials who are involved in the Islamic religious affairs department, including those implementing Sharia in the law, education and government. We show the film, Islam’s Non Believers, and have an extended discussion on apostasy and the right to atheism.
CEMB calls on all to stand with Mohamed Salih, a young Sudanese who filed an official request for all mention of Islam to be removed from his documents, including his national ID. As a result, he was charged with apostasy, arrested and released after being declared mentally unfit. Salih was forced to flee the country.
CEMB hosts the largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history in London in July 2017 at the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression with over 70 notable speakers from 30 countries or the Diaspora gathered in what is dubbed “The Glastonbury of Freethinkers” and “a Conference of Heroes” to honour dissenters and defend apostasy, blasphemy, and secularism. The sold-out conference highlights the voices of those on the frontlines of resistance – many of them persecuted and exiled. The conference made a space for crucial discussions and debates on Islamophobia and its use by Islamists to impose de facto blasphemy laws, the relation between Islam and Islamism as well as communalism’s threat to universal rights, art as resistance and Laicite as a human right. The conference hashtag, #IWant2BFree, trends on Twitter. The conference includes a public art protest of 99 balloons to represent those killed or imprisoned for blasphemy and apostasy around the world. Resolutions against the no platforming of Richard Dawkins and in support of Egyptian atheist Ismail Mohamed and CEMB at Pride are adopted. A Declaration of Freethinkers is adopted at the conference.
Following the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression, the International Coalition of Ex-Muslims is launched. The Coalition begins working on joint projects and actions and meets regularly to plan campaigns.
CEMB and One Law for All organise a Conference on Sharia Law, Apostasy and Secularism to discuss freedom of expression, apostasy and blasphemy laws, Islamism and the religious-Right, as well as Sharia in the law, educational system and public policy. They will also highlight the successful campaigns against the Law Society and Universities UK and pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo and the many Muslims, ex-Muslims and others who have been killed or persecuted for their dissent.
First legal atheist organisation formed in Turkey! The first legally recognised Atheist Organisation of the Balkans, Middle East and among all Muslim-majority countries, has been founded in Istanbul, Turkey. The organisation, titled Ateizm Dernegi, was founded in Istanbul on April 16, 2014.
CEMB and One Law for All sponsor a two-day international conference on the Religious Right, Secularism and Civil Rights. Notable free-thinkers, atheists and secularists from around the world came together for a weekend of discussions and debates on the religious-Right, its attacks on civil rights and freedoms, and the role of secularism for 21st century humanity. The exciting two-day conference discusses the Arab Spring, Sharia and religious laws, the limits of religion’s role in society, free expression, honour killings, apostasy and blasphemy laws, faith schools, women’s rights, secular values and much more. The 250 delegates made an unequivocal stand with the brave women and men of Kobane saying: “Their struggle is ours. Their fight is a fight for us all. We are all, today, Kobane.”
Muslimish Launched in May 2012 in New York City where ex-Muslims and Muslims who have questions about religion or want take a more objective look at its teachings can come and participate in a free and open discussion without fear of punishment or judgement.
CEMB holds successful International Day to Defend Apostates and Blasphemers. More than three hundred individuals and organisations call for an international day of action on 14 March to defend those accused of apostasy and blasphemy. Thousands more defended apostates and blasphemers via acts of solidarity and social media, Tweeted, sent letters of protest, or issued statements and messages of support.
CEMB stands with Bangladeshi bloggers and activists. In January, 29 year old blogger Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed. In February, 35 year old atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib, was brutally killed. Islamists continue to threaten prominent bloggers and have called for the “execution of 84 atheist bloggers for insulting religion”. We call for 25 April to be an international day to defend Bangladesh’s bloggers and activists.
CEMB defends Alexander Aan and condemns his being sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined for having written “God does not exist” on Facebook and calls for his immediate release. He was found guilty of “deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity” and “caused anxiety to the community and tarnished Islam” in Indonesia.
CEMB organises an International Day of Action to Defend Blasphemers and Apostates and calls on groups and individuals to take action on this day by organising a protest or vigil, setting up a table in a city centre, writing a letter, signing a petition, drawing a picture, taking a photo, making a video to highlight blasphemy and apostasy laws and rules, defend free expression and the women and men whose lives are at stake.
CEMB organises a Day of Agreement to highlight the difficulties faced by non-believers in Islamic theocracies, where they are forced to live in silence and furthermore, are unable to have even the smallest disagreements, as it could very much result in incarceration or execution.
Northern Ex-Muslim Meet up Group Launched. CEMB affiliated Manchester Ex-Muslim Meet-Up group which was established in November 2012 by Sandbad has been renamed Northern Ex-Muslim Meet-up Group. Ex-Muslims from Leeds, Bradford and surrounding areas are now part of the group. They welcome ex-Muslims in the North to join them, including from Liverpool.
CEMB and One Law for All hold seminar on Sharia Law in Britain to mark International Women’s Day. The seminar brought together Muslims, ex-Muslims, women’s rights campaigners, lawyers and politicians to outline the problems with Muslim Arbitration Tribunals and Sharia Councils and to propose recommendations for prohibiting religious tribunals and bringing about equal rights for all.