Saudi Arabia has recently passed a set of laws which declare atheists to be terrorists, and accompanied with draconian punishments – even death – that put atheists in Saudi Arabia at great risk. Even innocent acts such as visiting an atheist website or communicating with any atheist organisation or individual is now a criminal offense.
These laws criminalize a large segment of the population for no reason other than they do not share the official religious beliefs of the Saudi government. This is a violation of human rights and international law. It also violates the Arab Charter for Human Rights, a human rights treaty to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory. Not only will these laws likely cause the unjust incarceration and likely abuse of tens of thousands of Saudi citizens, it will also contribute to an increase in Saudi atheists seeking asylum in other, more tolerant countries.
There are many self-declared atheists in Saudi Arabia, most of whom are young and well educated. Surveys such as the Win-Gallop poll identify that some 5% of Saudi Arabians consider themselves atheists and a further 19% consider themselves ‘non-religious’. In a country of 30 million people, this law will affect more than 7 million Saudi citizens.
Saudi Arabia has been one of the strongest proponents of a UN anti-blasphemy resolution to ensure that religion – particularly Islam – is ‘respected.’ It has also recently been appointed to the UN Human Rights Council. If it is serious about expecting ‘respect’ for its favored religious sect, it should be willing to extend equal respect and protection to those who hold different or no religious beliefs.
We urge the Saudi government to rescind these laws before innocent lives are destroyed and a refugee crisis erupts.