Freedom of thought and expression are two of the most vital human rights, drivers of progress and enlightenment now as in the past. Yet they are two of the rights most under threat in today’s world. For activists and defenders of freedom of thought and expression the place to be this summer will be the World Humanist Congress, hosted by the British Humanist Association in the internationally renowned university city of Oxford: the first time the Congress is being held in the United Kingdom since 1978. The three-day gathering will bring together over 1000 atheist, humanist and other non-religious organisations and activists from over 50 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.
In a spectacular 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. These events are carefully designed to bring together highly sought-after speakers to create stimulating, surprising, and entertaining events that ignite once-in-a-lifetime conversations.
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; evolutionary biologist and writer Richard Dawkins; United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt and award winning author, Phillip Pullman.
Topical discussion, headline grabbers, and ground-breaking debate:
Bengali Blogger Asif Mohiuddin, 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.
The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will address delegates on Britain as a beacon for humanism and the government’s commitment to freedom of expression internationally.
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, Maryam Namazie and Kenan Malik on the question of whether current focus on Islam and freedom is bigoted or justified.
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.
Cartoonist and writer Martin Rowson will talk sex and censorship with obscenity lawyer Myles Jackman, commentator Laurie Penny and sex blogger Zoe Margolis
Broadcaster Nick Ross will talk exclusively to 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.
And much much more besides! The 1000 delegates themselves 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.
A social media campaign is being launched today to mark the official start of the run-up to the World Humanist Congress. The campaign will be made up of live online interviews and discussion sessions with some of our Congress speakers, as well as a series of online graphics stoking debate around freedom of thought and freedom of expression, including a series of 'Great Blasphemies' cartoons with illustrations by Martin Rowson, and a series of spotlight graphics highlighting the work done by humanist groups in Britain and around the world.
Further information can be found at http://whc2014.org.uk/
The Congress will highlight three main areas:
1. 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.
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