atheist bloggers risk their lives:  what can we do?


Article Submitted by: Jesse Cnockaert


Sometimes, the difference between accepting or denying a person seeking asylum is a matter of life and death, which is why Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC) is taking a hard look at the way Canada treats these cases, to reduce the number of people turned away unfairly.

CFI Canada is embarking on a two-year project to research into current legislation dealing with asylum seekers and refugee claimants of different sexuality, religious/non-religious, racial, and cultural backgrounds.

Our goals are:

  • to question the rationality, and the fairness, of current legislation in the way it treats asylum seekers who are at the highest risk of having their cases denied because of an immigration prosecutor’s personal bias, instead of the facts.
  • to educate Canadians about the facts of free-thought as a life-risking activity
  • to mobilize the Canadian secular community to provide support and information to those who risk their lives by speaking their minds

Sexual minorities, generally referred to as LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals) as well as atheist or agnostic individuals may be the most vulnerable individuals.

Non-religious people are discriminated against, or face outright persecution, in most countries of the world, according to the Freedom of Thought Report 2013 (1) prepared by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).  The report, the first of its kind, focused specifically on human rights, legal status and discrimination against humanists, atheists and non-religious people in every country on earth.

The report shows blasphemy can lead to a prison sentence in 39 countries, six of which are western countries.

There are also 13 countries where being an atheist can result in a death sentence.

In Iran, a country classified in the report as having “Grave Violations” of human rights, blogger Soheil Arabi was sentenced to death in September, 2014 after being found guilty of insulting the Prophet Mohammad on Facebook (2).  Arabi, 30, was arrested along with his wife in 2012 and found guilt of of insulting the Prophet, or “sabb al-nabi”, on Aug. 30, 2014.

Other nations identified in the report which may execute atheists and religious skeptics are Afghanistan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, The United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

CFI Canada is currently facing a steep increase in the number of asylum seekers asking for legal advice and support for their asylum claims as well as for support in establishing a new, secular life of freedom in Canada.

While speaking freely about being an atheist in Canada and the U.S. can be met with aggression or threats, there are people in the world fleeing here for fear of losing their lives.

Much of the correspondence to CFI Canada about asylums speaks to the fear these people have for their personal safety if they are deported.

“I am atheist for about a year in secret because I live under Islamic domination. I am planning to apply for asylum in Canada do to threat of death in case of exposed. I wonder if your organization offers support for cases like my case or guidance,” reads a request for help received April 10, 2014.

Another case, from May 27, 2014, involves a Canadian citizen, reaching out to CFI Canada on behalf of a friend who lives in Tunisia.

“He is an outcast from his family and community. He has, and continues to, suffer abuse at the hands of his parents. At twenty years of age the Tunisian constitution says he is free to make his own decisions. That is not the practice in reality,” the person wrote.  The writer described repeated incidents of the Tunisian friend being arrested at the whim of his parents, and receiving injuries while in custody such as broken fingers, a broken jaw, and a partially amputated ear.

“Is there anything that can be done to rescue this young man from this desperate situation? From what I have read of the Canadian immigration process, he wouldn’t stand a chance of qualifying for entry into Canada,” the writer said. “Is there a chance he might qualify as a refugee on the grounds of ‘religious’ prosecution? Is there someone within the Canadian system that might help me?”

Persecution against non-religious individuals is shown across the world. About 47 percent of countries in the world have laws or policies which penalize blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion, according to a 2011 analysis by Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life (3).

Of 198 countries studied, 32 have anti-blasphemy laws, 20 have laws penalizing apostasy and 87 have laws against the defamation of religion, including hate speech against members of religious groups.

Did you know that Canada continues to have a blasphemy law? Criminal Code Section 296

LGBTQ individuals face similar persecution. In Uganda, a law enacted in February, 2014 (recently invalidated by a constitutional court) imposed up to life imprisonment on LGBTQ, and punished anyone who advocates for their rights or provide services to them. Many LGBTQ people have been left no other choice but to flee and seek asylum in a safer country.

In Egale Canada, a Canadian LGBT human rights organization (2013), reported that police in Mexico are involved in, and encourage, homophobic and transphobic violence. As a result, about 60 people in Mexico were killed per year between 2001 and 2009 because of their sexual orientation. At the same time, 76.4 percent of LGBT people have experienced physical violence and 53.3 percent have been assaulted in public spaces.

Besides research into refugee legislation, CFI Canada will be starting awareness campaigns to educate authorities and the general public on the scope of the issues facing asylum seekers to make sure all are treated equally.


To participate in this project, please send an email to  CFI Canada is a volunteer-based organization.  Volunteers make it happen.

To lend your support to this project, you may also consider a financial contribution:





(1) The IHEU Freedom of Thought Report 2013

You can be put to death for atheism in 13 countries around the world




(3) Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life


Further Reading: Check back often as we update this article and reference.