Bishop Declan Lang who serves as the current bishop of Clifton and chairs the international affairs department of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales has called on Catholics to unite in solidarity for persecuted atheists around the world.
In a written article for the Universe, he said: “The Catholic community in England and Wales has a role to play in ensuring that the government maintains this position and continues to speak out when people are imprisoned, tortured or killed on account of their atheism.
“Doing so will not only be a practical expression of solidarity with those suffering the most appalling persecution, but will also promote freedom of religion or belief as a universal right to the benefit of all.”
Bishop Declan Lang centered his article around the case of prominent atheist writer and blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was hacked to death by machete-wielding attackers in Bangladesh February 2013, in the first of a string of attacks targeting secular writers.
Since 2013, a number of secularist writers, bloggers and publishers in Bangladesh have been killed or seriously injured in attacks perpetrated by Islamist extremists. The attacks have taken place at a time of growing tension between Bangladeshi secularists, who want the country to maintain its secularist tradition of separation of religion and state, and Islamists, who want an Islamic state.
Bishop Lang wrote: “Since then Bangladesh’s atheists have lived and died in fear. Four bloggers had been killed in 2015, but only 4 people were arrested in the murder cases. Avijit Roy, an author who wrote extensively on atheism and science, was hacked to death as he left a book fair with his wife.
“Weeks later Washiqur Rahman, an IT manager who blogged in his spare time, was stabbed in broad daylight. In the Northern city of Sylhet Ananta Bijoy Das was killed on his way to work, shortly after being invited to address a high profile press freedom event in Europe.
“As demands grew for the Bangladeshi government to act, gangs burst into the home of blogger Niloy Chakrabarti and the office of publisher Faisal Abedin Deepan, killing them both in the same horrific manner. All of the men had been named on lists of prominent atheists circulated by extremist groups and most had already received death threats. Several other high profile atheists narrowly escaped attacks and dozens fled the country.”
The bishop emphasized the need for Christians to unite with them in expressing sympathy because clearly, sentiments toward atheists is overwhelmingly negative, but we are called also look specifically at how they’re treated.
The persecution of atheists is a grave violation of human dignity throughout the world. In Saudi Arabia, where “calling for atheist thought in any form” is defined as an act of terrorism, writers have been flogged after publicly promoting humanist or secularist ideas. he said.
“History has shown us time and time again that when one minority group is oppressed with impunity, others soon face the same fate,” the bishop added.