The Freedom of Thought 2012 report: the non-religious are still being persecuted
Like many non-religious people around the world, I use the internet to express my thoughts. Especially in a country where the vast majority believe in one religion, and do not like to hear any criticisms, the internet provides a relatively safe way of speaking freely. Or so I thought.
I ran a blog in Arabic called Nour Alakl. I was also active on Facebook, running a satirical page under the pseudonym of Allah. In October 2010 I was arrested in the street near an internet cafe. I had believed that I had a right to the freedom of speech and to the freedom of belief.
But in jail I was told that my online statements about religion and Islam were illegal. I was told that society didn’t accept such criticisms. I was beaten by prison guards who demanded to know who had made me write against Islam. In their minds, I could only say these things as the result of some plot, some conspiracy. That I might simply want to express my independent thoughts was alien to them.
I spent the worst 10 months of my life in a Palestinian jail, facing constant pressure to say I was sorry. I was told they had removed my blog and that I must apologise for publishing it. Even once I free I was told I should never again use the internet, nor meet the media. For months after my release I was harassed by the security services, who further interrogated me and detained me without cause. I received letters from people saying they wanted to kill me.
My views, however, cannot be changed by a prison sentence or by persecution. I still believe the religion of Islam often stands against human rights and against women. I still believe Muhammad demanded in the Qu’ran the death of those who were not Muslims. Many Muslims may disagree with my view, or may find a way to understand religion in a moderate way. But I cannot accept this religion myself. That is what my thought and my conscience tell me. I am an atheist. I believe in human rights. I have the right to say these things.
Whose fault was it that I was treated so? It is religion, but also a culture. Certainly some people simply cannot stand to live alongside someone who does not conform to their views.
Eventually, I left the West Bank for Jordan. I obtained a visa from the French embassy. I am now in Paris, having applied for asylum. I am still awaiting an answer after six months. It has become harder and harder. From here I do have chance to blog in Arabic and in English as “Proud Atheist”. But I am now effectively in exile. I am living alone in a foreign city, cut off from friends and family. All over words.
I still do not feel safe. If I cannot stay, if I am not protected, then maybe the Palestinian authorities will arrest me again. That is my fear. I want to be active, but safety is my priority. I want the international community to care for those like me who are persecuted simply for speaking their minds, to stand against the laws in any country which limits basic freedoms of thought and expression. For we are human and freedom only means living our lives without hurting others.
The international community should care more than they do about what is happening. But there are many of us who need to talk, to reach out, even if we are using fake accounts on Facebook. We must express ourselves and our thoughts. We simply must be allowed this basic freedom.
This week the International Humanist and Ethical Union published the Freedom of Thought 2012 report to mark Human Rights Day. The report is a necessary step in the right direction. For the first time, many countries which abuse the rights of the non-religious are indexed and exposed, and cases like mine are documented under the banner of discrimination against the non-religious. This report will grow in the coming years, and I hope anyone concerned about human rights will take note and hold their countries to account.Tagged in: atheism, atheist, Freedom of Thought 2012, Human Rights Day, International Humanist and Ethical Union, islam, muslim, Nour Alakl, Religion
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