The World Humanist Congress: Freedom of Thought and Expression
8-10 August 2014
Activists and defenders of freedom of thought and expression will be arriving in internationally renowned university city of Oxford this week for the World Humanist Congress, hosted by the British Humanist Association. This is the first time the Congress is being held in the United Kingdom since 1978 and is shaping up to be the biggest Congress in its history. The three-day gathering will bring together over 1000 atheist, humanist and other non-religious organisations and activists from over 60 countries from the world.
They will celebrate freedom of thought and expression, hear how these rights are being threatened, meet some of their inspirational defenders and explore how the humanist movement can contribute to their defence.
The Congress includes delegates from many of the 13 countries which still carry a death penalty for apostasy and countries where the rights and the freedoms of the non-religious are increasingly under threat globally from religious violence and state persecution.
With a programme of over 40 events with over 70 speakers, the Congress will touch upon subjects as diverse as history, politics, international affairs, science and philosophy.
Award winning writer and activist Taslima Nasrin, known for her powerful writings on women’s oppression and her unflinching criticism of religion will address audiences on her forced exile and numerous fatwas calling for her death.
Bengali blogger Asif Mohiuddin, who will give his first public interview after being released from prison in Bangladesh. Attacked and brutally stabbed in the back, shoulder, and chest by a group of radical religious fundamentalists affiliated to Al-Qaeda because of his criticism of Islam, and Sharia law, there were calls for him and others to be prosecuted for blasphemy and a march of one million madrassa students demanded the death penalty for them all.
Pakistani human rights defender Gululai Ismail who in running her project Aware Girls in North West Pakistan challenging patriarchy and religious extremism, has been threatened, as have her family. It was her organisation that Malala Yousafza was working for when she was shot by the Taliban.
Nigerian human rights advocate Leo Igwe will talk about his exposure of the violence and child abandonment and death that can result from accusations of witchcraft which brought him into conflict with high-profile witchcraft believers, whose followers broke up a meeting he was addressing, beat him up and robbed him. His campaigns for human rights have led to him several times being arrested in Nigeria.
Physicist, broadcaster and BHA President Jim Al-Khalili joins a fearless line up of commentators including Maajid Nawaz, Alom Shaha, Maryam Namazie and Kenan Malik on the question of whether current focus on Islam and freedom is bigoted or justified.
The Congress keynote speakers bring with them a wide breadth of expertise in different fields. They are: Nobel prize winner playwright, poet and human rights defender, Wole Soyinka; United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt and award winning author, Phillip Pullman.
The 1000 delegates, many of whom have been given grants from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to attend, will have their own stories to tell from all over the world in their fight for freedom of expression and the difficult and at times extremely dangerous conditions under which they work.
Further information on the full line up of speakers can be found at http://whc2014.org.uk/
IHEU Freedom of Thought Report http://whc2014.org.uk/freedom-of-thought-report/
The Congress will highlight three main areas:
Britain as a beacon for both Humanism and freedom of thought: The BHA was a founding member of the International Humanist Ethical Union (IHEU), established as the successor body to the World Union of Freethinkers, which held its last global conference in London in 1938 before effectively collapsing under the twin onslaught of fascism and communism. The BHA is one of the oldest organisations in IHEU, having formed in 1896, and humanists have been prominent in British public life for many generations.
2. The importance of freedom of thought and expression and the increasingly hostile environment in which these vital freedoms must be upheld. As outlined in the IHEU Freedom of Thought Report, 13 countries still carry a death penalty for apostasy and the rights and the freedoms of the non-religious are increasingly under threat globally from religious violence and state persecution.
3. How humanists and others can work together to protect these freedoms: IHEU provides support for humanist organisations internationally and advocates on their behalf at the United Nations Human Rights Council and in other forums, as well as providing financial assistance for those in developing countries. Humanists seek to work with others of different beliefs internationally in support of these shared values.