17 GLBTI Gambians Imprisoned

In Gambia lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons are not accorded their basic right to simply be who they are. 

Monday 10 April 2012 marked a historic day of the unrealistic denial of the diversity of sexual orientation.  Seventeen young Gambian men - Alieu Sarr, Kebba Ceesay, Abdoulie Bojang, Amadou Jallow, Amidou Nyang, Ousman Gomez, Sainey Fatty, Lamin Konateh, Lamin Sarr, Buba Banda, Ebrima Jallow, Lamin Saho, Abdoulie Cham, Lamin Jaiteh, Ousman Dibba, Adboulie Saidy, and Muhammed Manneh - were remanded at the Mile 2 Central Prison on grounds of being under police investigation for having engaged in  homosexual activities. An  eighteenth accused man, Nigerian immigrant Ogika Amenechi, was also charged. 

The seventeen Gambia nationals and Nigerian were charged with having been engaged in "indecent practice among themselves in public places" on 5 April 2012 at Serre Kunda and other places in The Gambia.

The seventeen accused, who pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, were denied bail on Monday on the grounds that they were being investigated. Even though the Magistrate who presided over the case told the court that the men were charged with a bailable offence and noted that they had been in detention since 5 April, the Police prosecutor persisted with his application for bail refusal. 

The case was adjourned to 19 April 2012 for hearing.  The accused were not represented during the first hearing.

Apostasy Campaign in Chile

The AECH, Skeptics Association of Chile, started as a group of people who got to know each other through debates on online forums.  They were familiar with the work of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, among others, and were also catalyzed by the appearance of a very well known charlatan on television.

AECH’s work involves publishing articles online, running two radio shows, and also going after possible charlatans or quacks, explaining people why some benefits-for-little-money might be a scam.  They spread science through the internet and their radio shows, which a lot of people still don’t have access to in our country, where statistics about reading skills and reading comprehension are frantically depressing.

AECH’s objectives are to undertake an educational role in the mass media, create debate wherever and whenever it’s needed and raise awareness of all the quackery still going on.

I contacted Luis León Cárdenas Graide, better known as ‘Luchostein’, who is a member of this association.

But before Luis’ interview, what is the apostasy campaign and how does it work?

The apostasy campaign is a (hopefully) massive gathering of people to formally renounce their religion. People participate by attending a meeting in their communities where they are given apostasy letters to fill in.  The letters are handed in by groups to their respective archdiocese, which then has two days time (by law) to go through the papers and delete the apostates from its records permanently.

For more information on the apostasy campaign in Chile see: http://www.aech.cl/2012/03/convocatoria-participar-en-apostasia.html.

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PATAS, A Spark of Reason in the Philippines

The First Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Convention was held in Manila on Saturday April 21st by the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS). This event is notable in that it came into being from a grassroots organization started on Facebook only just over a year ago. The ambitious work of its members, its chairperson Marissa Torres Langseth and president John Paraiso, drew a crowd of around 150 supporters and speakers from many organizations around the world. Don’t be fooled by the size of the turnout; this is truly a spark in a tinderbox.

The vast majority of people in the Philippines are fervently religious, the country being predominantly Roman Catholic with an Islamic population in the south, and it is also highly superstitious. At the convention we learned of the power of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, where voters are outright coerced into election choices under the threat of excommunication. Even more alarming is the church’s stance on birth control, abortion rights and, women’s rights. The church’s influence has led to overpopulation with a majority of Filipinos living in poverty, where AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase. Lack of basic education and the threat of damnation for rational family planning plague the population. Undue meddling in the government by the church has allowed it to maintain control since it was forced onto the Filipino population by the Spaniards.  But times are changing. As Marissa Torres Langseth wrote in the preamble to the convention, “No more hiding, no more lying—we are coming out…Our tools are logic, critical thinking, reason, science.”

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Brazil deems abortion of anencephalic fetuses legal

Women celebrate when the results were announced.
“Crime is having no rights!” reads the banner. (Picture: AgBR/ CFêmea)
  

Anencephaly, according to Wikipedia,  is a cephalic disorder that results from a neural tube defect that occurs when the cephalic (head) end of the neural tube fails to close, usually between the 23rd and 26th day of pregnancy, resulting in the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp.

On 12 April Brazil took a true secular action by decriminalizing the abortion of anencephalic fetuses and assuring the rights of pregnant women in such cases. With eight votes for and two against, the result of the judgment may not have been as significant as the signaled Brazilian position regarding religion and State separation: minister Marco Aurélio Mello of the Supreme Court of Brazil (“Superior Tribunal Federal”), the highest judicial court, rapporteur of this process and first to vote pro-decriminalization, included a whole section in his speech to reinforce the fact that the constitution is laic, and no religious belief should interfere in the law. 

Some interesting parts are transcripted below[1] (free translation):

“Gods and Caesars have separated places. The State is not religious, nor is atheist. The State is simply neutral.”  

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What Is The Soul

There is a new addition to AAI's Freethought Audio Library! Thank you to Richard Ponce for his recording of Bertrand Russell's What is the soul.  AAI Members can access this recording by logging into the Members Only section of the AAI website, then finding the Freethought Audio Library under the Resources menu.

What Would You Substitute For the Bible as a Moral Guide?

Oh, we can think of a few things!  AAI Members can now listen to Robert Ingersoll's What Would You Substitute For the Bible as a Moral Guide? through the Freethought Audio Library, thanks to a recording by David Brocker.

AAI Members can access this recording by logging into the Members Only section of the AAI website, then finding the Freethought Audio Library under the Resources menu.

Iranian Rapper Faces Calls For His Execution Over Insulting Imam Naghi

(This piece is an amalgamation of information from articles originally published here: http://www.rferl.org/content/iran_rapper_/24578413.html / http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15944274,00.html / http://www.eurasiareview.com/11052012-germany-iranian-rapper-najafi-in-hiding-after-death-threats/  http://www.freemuse.org/sw47478.asp)

After the exiled Iranian rapper and rock guitarist Shahin Najafi released a controversial song entitled ‘Naghi’, an Iranian cleric issued a death sentence (fatwa) against him, and a news site in the country started a campaign calling for his assassination.  The song ‘Naghi’ is believed to be offensive to Imam Naqi, the tenth Imam in Shia Islam.
 
The news website Asr Iran, which is closely tied to the regime in Tehran, launched an online campaign calling for the hanging of 31-year-old Shahin Najafi. The website stated that the aim of the campaign was to have Najafi condemned for blasphemy, a crime that carries the death penalty in Iran.

The campaign organisers called on all Shi’ites and Muslims in general to find and kill Najafi and “send him to hell,” according to the website.  This happened after a Shia cleric based in the Iranian city of Qom, Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani, issued a death sentence against Shahin Najafi for apostasy, the Persian-language Al Arabiya website reported on 9 May 2012. Al Arabiya dubbed Najafi as “Salman Rushdie of music”.

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An Open Letter to the Gambian Government on Homosexuality

In April Ebou Sohna reported that 17 GLBTI Gambians had been imprisoned for the "crime" of homosexuality.  Subsequently the Gambia Secular Assembly (an AAI Member) wrote an open letter to the Gambian government explaining that homosexuality is a natural part of human diversity and calling for the equality of all citizens.  The letter was published as a series in The Standard newspaper in Gambia and you can see a scan here.  

Atheist Alliance International applauds the Gambia Secular Assembly for taking a stand on behalf of GLBTI people in Gambia.

Join the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain’s 5th Anniversary Celebration

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain will be 5 years old in June 2012. 

To celebrate the work, significance and achievements of this unique organisation, we are holding a fundraising luncheon on Saturday 23 June 2012 in London from 13.00-16:00 hours. 

The event will be a wonderful opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals and enjoy a three-course lunch with wine, great entertainment and speakers in an intimate setting whilst supporting the organisation’s work. 

Guests will hear from renowned philosopher AC Grayling, campaigner Gita Sahgal, comedian Kate Smurthwaite, CEMB founder Maryam Namazie and magician Neil Edwards, amongst others. There will also be a dance act, poetry and music. 

In the five years since its establishment, the CEMB has been a beacon of hope for thousands of ex-Muslims who have renounced Islam and religion. It has helped to break the taboo and challenge Islamism, which punishes apostasy with the death penalty. The work of the CEMB has included assisting to return a young woman to Britain from North Africa where she had been sent as punishment for her ‘disobedience’ to securing the release from detention and the right to asylum for apostates across Europe. The organisation has also given large numbers of people a new ‘home’ via its forum and meet-up group. Moreover, it has helped to highlight the plight of ex-Muslims, apostates and blasphemers internationally, including Indonesian atheist Alex Aan currently in prison and German-Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi facing a death fatwa from Iran’s ayatollahs. The One Law for All campaign against Sharia law in Britain, which was initiated by the CEMB at its first international conference, has also made waves across the globe as has its unequivocal defence of free expression, equality and citizenship rights. 

Ticket(s) for the luncheon are £45.00 per person or £35 for students/unwaged. 

To purchase tickets, send a cheque made payable to CEMB to BM Box 1919, London WC1N 3XX or pay via Paypal or Worldpay: http://ex-muslim.org.uk/ indexDonate.html. Please make sure to include an email address and telephone number so that further details can be provided. 

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Rabbi's little helper

Just when sequestering, shunning and sheltering seemed to be enough to keep the minds of ultra-Orthodox Jewish followers from exploring anything reasonable or scientific outside themselves, it seems the leaders have learned to embrace modern psychology, well sort of. In a new effort to help "problematic" members fall in line and control their tayvos - desires - leading rabbis in various Hasidic communities in Israel have linked up with morally questionable psychiatrists in order to prescribe drugs intended to kill sex drive and aid in the "struggle against homosexuality." 

http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/rabbi-s-little-helper-1.422985
http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/psychiatric-drugs-become-talk-of-the-ultra-orthodox-community-1.425727

Some definitions of terms that appear in the articles: Yeshiva- a religious college for boys where only religious scriptures are learned; Rebbe- the head of a Hasidic community, higher ranking than a "rabbi" and seen as an intermediary between the faithful and God; Hasidic Jews- continuation of an 18th century spiritual revival movement in Eastern Europe which is known for stringent observance of Jewish law and isolating themselves from the secular world in regards to media, education and actual contact. The first article is the initial report uncovered by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which is one of the most widespread and internationally recognized Israeli newspapers.

Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic

Thank you to Richard Ponce for his recording of Bertrand Russell's Am I an Atheist or Agnostic for AAI's Freethought Audio Library.  AAI Members can access this recording by logging into the Members Only section of the AAI website, then finding the Freethought Audio Library under the Resources menu.

Witchcraft in Malawi - new report released

The Association for Secular Humanism in Malawi (an AAI Member) has released a report on the extent of witchcraft in Malawi - and it is depressing reading. Belief in witchcraft is widespread, the number of cases is rising and people suspected of witchcraft are often subject to violence. The report recommends ten initiatives to combat the violence against those accused of witchcraft.

Atheist Alliance International congratulates the Association for Secular Humanism for its work to document the extent of the problems in Malawi and its ongoing campaign against superstitious and dangerous practices.

Read the full report

Alexander Aan update

The trial of Alexander Aan - the Indonesian man attacked and charged with blasphemy after posting 'God does not exist' on Facebook - is underway.  As noted by in an article in the Guardian his prospects may be grim.

Freedom of expression is a critical issue for atheists.  We are in the minority and it's all too common for religious people to claim they are offended by the statement of our conclusion that there are no gods.  Religious people should not be offended by this simple statement, but even if they are, physical assault and imprisonment is a not a reasonable response.

If you would like to state your support for freedom of expression and help Alexander you can contact the Indonesian authorities to call for his release and register your concern about Indonesia's blasphemy laws. 

Atheist Alliance International is collecting donations to help pay for Aan's legal costs and to support the Aan family's living expenses while he is in jail, at www.atheistalliance.org/support-aai/donate (Legal/Support Fund for Alex Aan).

 

Moving Forward

(Image: Benjamin Wheelock, Salon.com)

On May 9, 2012, President Obama, who has for years said that his view of marriage equality is still “evolving,” told ABC news in an unanticipated move, “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that, for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married” (video may not stream for a few days, due to server-overload on their end).

Reactions, of course, vary.

Republicans and the religious right have taken a predictable stance on the issue.  Romney’s senior advisor, Ed Gillespie, spoke on MSNBC, detailing the position of the Romney campaign.  In short, they are still of the opinion that marriage is between “one man and one woman,” and Romney has gone so far as to threaten a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage for all states (which, it should be said, goes against their stated “states'-rights” agenda, wherein the government is supposed to not make decisions for individual states…see the short video linked at the end of this article).  Their conservative base is naturally behind their stance.

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Atheism And Human Rights Abuses In Africa

Originally published by Sahara Reporters.  

Today around the globe too many atrocities are being committed with impunity in the name of god, allah and other constructs, which have over the ages, identified or associated with the so called supreme being. The dream of a secular peaceful world where people of all faiths and none can coexist in harmony- continues to elude many across the region. Millions of people- theists and atheists- continue to suffer and are abused due to superstition, religious fundamentalism and supernaturalism. In this piece I will focus on two of such areas.

The rights of non-believers. I have heard it proclaimed at the UN that the rights of women are human rights. I have also heard it proclaimed that the rights of gay people are human rights. These proclamations changed the way human rights are perceived around the globe. Personally I have yet to hear it proclaimed at UN, or at our regional and national human rights bodies that the rights of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers are human rights. I do not want these rights to be implied or assumed as currently the case in most countries. I want them to be expressly declared as universal human rights.

In spite of the progress the world has made in terms of upholding human rights and liberties, and getting states to honour their obligations under various instruments and mechanisms, equal rights have yet to be extended to religious non-believers in most parts of the world particularly in Africa.

The full article is available here: http://saharareporters.com/article/atheism-and-human-rights-abuses-africa-leo-igwe.

The Dynamics of a National Conversation

Quick Recap: On 9 May 2012, President Obama, who had for years said that his view of marriage equality was still “evolving,” told ABC news, "At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that, for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

I noted in an earlier article that reactions to this announcement varied.  Liberal views included skepticism over his motives, regret over the time it has taken, and outright joy.  Knee-jerk condemnation from conservatives was mostly uniform and unsurprising.  Also unsurprising was the hope from conservatives that Obama’s shift on this controversial issue would cost him needed votes in November’s Presidential election.  This hope seemed to be supported by statistics.  In the United States, 43% of our population attends church on a near-weekly basis, 80% believe in God, and 12% more believe in a universal spirit (shame on Gallup, though, for not defining “universal spirit” in their poll).  Gallup has also shown that while 84% of non-Christians believe “same-sex marriage should be legal,” only 39% of Protestants and 51% of Catholics do.

The trope conservatives have been bandying about is that these large blocks of religious people, for whom faith is an important issue in their lives and who look to that faith when making political decisions, will feel Obama has so rejected their values that they will be galvanized to vote in large numbers, and will swing Republican, in the upcoming Presidential election.

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South Korea Surrenders to Creationist Demands

Originally pubished at nature.com

Mention creationism, and many scientists think of the United States, where efforts to limit the teaching of evolution have made headway in a couple of states1. But the successes are modest compared with those in South Korea, where the anti-evolution sentiment seems to be winning its battle with mainstream science.

A petition to remove references to evolution from high-school textbooks claimed victory last month after the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) revealed that many of the publishers would produce revised editions that exclude examples of the evolution of the horse or of avian ancestor Archaeopteryx. The move has alarmed biologists, who say that they were not consulted. “The ministry just sent the petition out to the publishing companies and let them judge,” says Dayk Jang, an evolutionary scientist at Seoul National University.

The campaign was led by the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), which aims to delete the “error” of evolution from textbooks to “correct” students’ views of the world, according to the society’s website. The society says that its members include professors of biology and high-school science teachers.

Read the full article here.