Showing posts with label oorf. Show all posts
Showing posts with label oorf. Show all posts

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Canada Keeps Mum On Saudi Human Rights Record With Cheque In Hand

The Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV III) is built by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (source)
Yesterday, the Canadian representative at the UN Human Rights Council Meeting echoed the statement of the US representative; that the CFI should be allowed to speak of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia regardless of how embarrassed or in denial the Saudi representatives were.

Although I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised, I really shouldn't have been. It is the duty of each of the members of that group to defend the free and open expression of ideas; namely, free speech. To not do this would be the height of hypocrisy. They would be no better than Saudi Arabia, which either refuses to admit their human rights violations or perhaps has no clue what human rights even mean. Honestly, I'm beginning to wonder.

I was also surprised today to find this refreshing tweet from Office of Religious Freedom Ambassador Andrew Bennett.

He did good with that tweet.

However, it's really not enough. The Canadian representative -- what's his name? -- was acting in his professional capacity and representing his country officially. That was Canada's position.

I've been pretty rough on Bennett over the years because although he seems to promise that his agency will defend the freedoms of atheists alongside those of the religious, I have yet to find any direct evidence of this. My last post on this pretty much sums up my feelings that we're completely on our own - the Office of Religious Freedom seems to only be interested in protecting the rights of the religious, our Minister of Foreign Affairs doesn't seem to believe atheists require protecting and there is no special human rights agency for non-religious people.

So is this tweet progress? Well, perhaps a little, but it's still just a tweet. Is it the position of Canada or just Bennett's personal opinion? It certainly carries none of the weight of an official press release. The Office of Religious Freedom make quite a few releases; several a month. You'll find zero releases defending atheists.

So why the silence about Raif Badawi? What with his wife and children here in Canada already? Why doesn't Canada denounce Saudi Arabia officially? I'll don my tinfoil hat here for a moment.

Look, I'm not saying it's the entire reason, but there is this armored vehicle contract with Saudi Arabia that was won recently. It's only the largest in Canada's history. It's gigantic.

Largest Advanced Manufacturing Export Win in Canada’s History
February 14, 2014 - London, Ontario - Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

The Honourable Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, and Danny Deep, Vice President, General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada, announced today a historic multi-billion dollar contract win for vehicles and associated equipment, training and support services.

The announcement was made in London, Ontario, where the light armoured vehicles will be designed and manufactured and which will become the epicentre of a cross-Canada supply chain directly benefiting more than 500 local Canadian firms.

This 14-year contract will create and sustain more than 3,000 jobs each year in Canada, with southern Ontario accounting for approximately 40 percent of the supply base.

Facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), the Government of Canada’s international government-to-government contracting organization, the contract is with Saudi Arabia, a priority market under the government’s new Global Markets Action Plan.
Aww... A multi-billion dollar "Valentines Day gift" from human-rights-crushing Saudi Arabia to the Harper Government(tm) and General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada. I wonder if the police in the kingdom will use the armoured vehicles to crush their own population in future protests?

I'm sorry, I forgot to specify which kingdom I was referring to. I mean the one in the Middle East, not in Ottawa. Easy mistake, I know.

So perhaps by next Valentines Day, the Saudi religious police can use these vehicles to dramatically crash into florist shops and wrench flowers and chocolates away from terrified people who wish to make gifts to their loved ones -- or perhaps just use the guns to blow them to pieces? The LAV III -- brochure here -- comes with a M242 Bushmaster 25mm cannon, a secondary C6 7.62mm co-axial machine gun along with supplementary Mag58 turret top MG in swing mount and 76mm smoke grenade dischargers. That last item seems like it would be great for riot dispersal and the brochure promises great Supportability and affordability.

Speaking of affordability, just how many are we talking about? A CBC story covering this back in February lets us know the deal is a paltry $10,000,000,000 USD. I suppose a cheque like that would make anyone think twice before upsetting the client with little concerns about the human rights of their population. Oh, and if you're American, don't think you can get off easily -- the contract is actually a US-Saudi deal that involves Canadian manufacturing plants in Ontario.
Neither the Canadian government nor GDLS has been so far willing to say how many of the sophisticated weapons systems will be built for the government of Saudi Arabia, but a $10-billion US deal could buy many hundreds of vehicles.
Isn't that great? But I'm certain that a country with a human rights record with Saudi Arabia would never dream to turn armoured vehicles on their own population.
"Saudi Arabia stepped up arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents, and forcibly dispersed peaceful demonstrations by citizens in 2013," the report said.

"Authorities continued to violate the rights of nine million Saudi women and girls and nine million foreign workers ... As in past years, authorities subjected thousands of people to unfair trials and arbitrary detention."

Saudi Arabia permits beheading and stoning as forms of criminal punishment for murder and rape, alongside social crimes such as adultery. Homosexual acts are also punishable by death, flogging and imprisonment, as is drug use. Saudi Arabia is also regularly condemned for its treatment of women, who will earn the right to vote in 2015, but who will still be disallowed from driving cars — or armoured vehicles, for that matter. 
Is there a direct connection with Raif Badawi? Probably not, but there could be a general sort of blanket policy that ruffling Saudi feathers is bad for business. Or perhaps it's all a big coincidence. But isn't money amazing?

I'm waiting for Andrew Bennett or John Baird to prove me wrong.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Raif Badawi's Wife & Children In Canada: Amnesty International Canada Ask Government to Act

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has been sentence to 1,000 lashes and 70,000 fine for writing things on the Internet.
It turns out that there is an important Canadian connection to jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children fled Saudi Arabia six months ago and live only a short drive away from me in Sherbrooke, Quebec! Now she and Amnesty International Canada are asking for the Canadian Government's help.

Quebec woman's jailed Saudi husband faces whipping
Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children fled Saudi Arabia for Lebanon because of threats to their safety prior to Badawi’s arrest.

She and her children came to Canada six months ago and now live in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said Haidar’s arrival in Quebec has attracted Canadian interest in her husband, whom Neve calls a prisoner of conscience.

“It gives us now a much stronger connection to the case and certainly has really motivated Amnesty activists, particularly in Quebec,” Neve told CBC News.

So far, however, that interest is not moving the Canadian government to take stronger action in defence of Badawi, Neve said.
Again, where is the Office of Religion Freedom on this one? Or, as I stated before, are we on our own? Remember Pussy Riot singer Nadezhda Tolokonnikova? She even had permanent residence in Canada which got her absolutely nothing from Canada in way of protection. What an enormous disappointment our government is. If you need to dig your way out of any similar situations in the future in hostile foreign lands, the best you can probably hope for is the Canadian government sending you your own shovel.

I'm not holding my breath, but we should try to at least get Badawi's plight somewhere on this list of official condemnations and concerns over at the Office of Religious Freedom. We did get a promise of sorts that they are just as concerned about violations against atheists. Perhaps we could get a backroom whisper?

If you tweet then contact Ambassador Andrew Bennett @FreedomReligion, Foreign Minister John Baird @HonJohnBaird and the Office of Religious Freedom's Facebook Page. Use the hashtag #FreeBadawi and #FreeRaif.

Also, make noise. Write into media outlets -- especially in Quebec. I say this because within secular Quebec higher level officials may take up the mantle for Badawi. They might also see it as an opportunity to beat the Federal government over the head as well -- often a popular sport here in Quebec.

More news on this as it develops!

(Above post appeared early this morning on social media. It appears to be his kids)

Monday, 26 May 2014

It Really Feels Like We're On Our Own

(source)
Veronica over at Canadian Atheist posted recently about a new appeal to Andrew Bennett at our Office of Religious Freedom and John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi had his original ludicrous sentence of 7.25 years and 600 lashes upped to an uber ludicrous 10 years, 1000 lashes and one million ryals (about $290,000 CDN) back in December. His crime? He blogged something - like me. By now I probably deserve to be eaten alive by wild dogs if I lived in Saudi Arabia.

Atheist Freethinkers, here in Quebec, made this press release on the 23rd of May.
Montreal, 23rd May 2014 — Atheist Freethinkers (LPA-AFT), an association which promotes secularism and supports the rights of atheists, asks the Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, to demand that the government of Saudi Arabia release the blogger Raif Badawi who is currently imprisoned in that country for the “crime” of insulting Islam. Mr. Badawi was given an initial sentence of 7.25 years and 600 lashes, but that punishment was increased recently to 10 years, 1000 lashes and one million ryals (about $290,000 CDN).

Raif Badawi is the creator of the web site Free Saudi Liberals through which he peacefully expressed his opinions. He is accused of being a threat to general security, of failing to be obedient as he criticized certain religious authorities, and of violating Islamic values. In the past, Mr. Badawi had already faced accusations of apostasy for which Saudi Arabia, as well as several other majority-Muslim countries, apply the death penalty.

This new punishment for a so-called “crime” is not only draconian but itself constitutes a crime against freedom of conscience – not only that of Mr. Badawi but also the freedom of conscience of all Saudis.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia recently raised international outrage by adopting a series of laws which designate atheism as a form of “terrorism” and stipulate severe penalties, sometimes even death. It is now a criminal act in that country to visit an atheist web site or communicate with an atheist organization.
The association LPA-AFT thus joins the appeal launched by the International Association of Free Thought (IAFT), of which it is an affiliate, for the release of Raif Badawi and for the respect of freedom of conscience in Saudi Arabia. We ask Minister Baird to make it known to the Saudi government that its policy in this matter is unacceptable and that complete respect for freedom of conscience – including the freedom to apostatize – is a fundamental condition of the rule of law.
Well, we all know what John Baird thinks of atheist persecution abroad. It would seem that he denies it even exists!

We've had weak and pathetic promises from Andrew Bennett and this Office of Religious Freedom as well. Nothing even coming close to an official statement, of course. I've blogged about it for a long time and have grown thoroughly jaded about the ORF. To be honest, I am rather nauseous these days whenever I think of this.

So, after time and time again of demanding this from our government, I can see they're really not interested at all in the plight of atheists. They're plenty interested in the plight of the religious because, as far as I can tell, the Conservatives are deeply invested in keeping a certain base demographic happy here. Maybe if we ever vote them out...

It really does feel like we're on our own here. I can see the CFI and other organizations are doing their best to build awareness. I wonder if billboards or full-paged newspaper ads would help? Serious, people. We need to take to the streets because the government is not our friend when it comes to this. But I realize everyone is very busy and I would be a hypocrite to point my fingers at people when I'm not putting my feet to the pavement myself.

Well, do take a look at Veronica's post. Once I get over my ORF-induced funk, I'll see what I can do and I'm sure it's something. We owe it to Raif because we're all on our own.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Did the Office of Religious Freedom Stand Up For Another "Mysterious Atheist?"


Well... maayyyyyybeeee.... Okay, I seriously doubt it.

So I just gave a listen to the CBC Sunday Edition panel discuss The Public God. You can find a good review of the discussion by Spencer Lucas, who attended the taping of the discussion over at the Canadian Atheist. I think everyone might be a little too hard on Gretta Vosper - she was outnumbered, but maybe I'm just a softy. I hold organizer Michael Enright responsible.

The Public God: Hour One & Two (MP3)

Editor's Note 2014-04-24: Well, mysteriously this link now points to a completely different episode and the crappy online player at the episode site isn't loading. Maybe I'll find another source.

Editor's Note 2014-04-24: The podcast is still available over at Stitcher. Who knows for how long.

Well, I have many things to say about the discussion. Perhaps my biggest problem with it was not ever really being sure who was saying what. Such is radio.

Then there was this, which really got stuck in my craw. The discussion went to the Canadian Office of Religious Freedom - a cause strongly supported by panelist Janet Buckingham Epp but widely criticized by non-religious everywhere.

Sole atheist panelist Gretta Vosper brought up a point that I've been making for months now about the Office. Why are they not speaking out in support of atheists and agnostics who are being persecuted in the name of religion? They promised they would, well, sort of.

So, Vosper asked the question and I was surprised to hear this answer from Fr. de Souza (I think it was him).
Vosper: Did they say anything about Fazil Say, an atheist, world-renowned pianist who was imprisoned for ten months in Turkey for blogging something about anti-religion? Did they say anything about that? 
de Souza: They did. our office, the Canadian office, they did, yeah.
Now here's what I hear: 'Oh yeah. Sure. Of course they did. Could you stop slagging my beloved Office of Religious Freedom and can we move on to something else?'

This would be the second microscopic trace of support from the Office for atheists. This one follows another one; a second tiny ethereal wisp of something apparently just as immaterial as de Souza's god. It sort of got thrown in during similar circumstances, as a sort of dismissal in an awkward moment.

Andrew Bennett made it back in February.
Bennett maintains that freedom from religion is also a human right to be defended, and he has spoken out for an atheist blogger in Kazakhstan.
In my post about this, I theorised it may have been Aleksandr Kharlamov. 

That, like this, would be huge for our community if it were actually proven to be true.  If there was any public statement on by the Office or anywhere at all for that matter to back it up.

More quiet noncommittal rumours, but it's not like this Office sits idle doing nothing at all. It seems to release official statements defending religious clergy and communities in peril nearly weekly.

I'm not suggesting they stop doing this, but it would be nice to get a mention - a mention, a single mention.  They alway seem to keep these covert murmurings defending atheists behind closed doors. Is de Souza privy to top secret international affairs information?

Perhaps the Office really is playing for their (political) base; the conservative Christian right. That too was a charge leveled in the course of this panel discussion.

So I'm asking Fr. Raymond de Souza to please provide the references for his statement so I, the CFI and fellow atheists and secularists can begin to celebrate this good work of the Office of Religious Freedom. 

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Canadian Office of Religious Freedom Defends Atheist Blogger!... Discreetly... Shhhhh...

Scientists are studying public signs of the support now and the search continues for any other mention of this on the ORF
website and across the Internet. (source)

The Toronto Star has a feature on Andrew Bennett and the newish Office of Religious Freedom.

LINK: Meet Canada’s defender of the faiths

Defender of the faiths? Well, coming from someone who would like to discourage faith - the belief in anything for no good reason - as much as possible, this title is not all that encouraging. But it turns out the Office does work to help religious people around the world. When it comes to helping people, I'm all for this!

That's why this section of the article, a challenge from Canadian Secular Alliance's Justin Trottier, caught my attention. Here he is making the case for my people who are being persecuted around the world for their lack of faith by those who do violence in the name of their faith.
“We’ve been pushing (the Office of Religious Freedom) to defend apostates who have left religion, people who are atheists in countries where they face the death penalty,” says Justin Trottier of the Canadian Secular Alliance. “Other than flowery language about their stand on atheism they haven’t done anything to back up their claims.”
I've brought this up many many times before. While Andrew Bennett has told us Canadians several times that it is also his mission to protect atheists across the world, I have seen zero actual press releases and official condemnation by the Office of the treatment of atheists around the world.

So then the article author throws in this statement by Bennett.
Bennett maintains that freedom from religion is also a human right to be defended, and he has spoken out for an atheist blogger in Kazakhstan.
Holy smokes! Really! This is huge! What did I miss?

Well, that's it. Just that. Not a single peep about this anywhere else on the ORF's website, anywhere. Google: nothing. 

I'm guessing he's here talking about Aleksandr Kharlamov, who's incarceration at a mental hospital for merely publicly saying he's an atheist drew the criticism from the ORF's US counterpart, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2013. 

As for the ORF? Well, apparently not in public; just behind closed doors.

Oh and, as far as I can tell, Kharlamov is still on trial for being a terrorist.

I find it interesting that this information should come out apparently purely in response to a CSA statement by Justin Trottier and not posted to the ORF's well-maintained media release page.

Or perhaps the ambassador is shy to speak out in public because of strong forces that keep the Conservatives in power?
“You have to see it as the Conservatives looking to build a winning coalition that can deliver a majority,” says Nik Nanos, president of Nanos Research. “I believe the strategy is to rely on the core support of fiscally conservative voters, and graft on top of that special issue and interest groups, which could be faith or culturally based.”
Yes, I can see how support of atheists might upset the base.

Look, I know diplomacy can probably be a very opaque thing. So who knows what the office may be doing in the background for imprisoned atheists?  However, it does seem interesting and frustrating to me that the Office has taken public stand after public stand - nearly weekly - against the persecution of the religious leaving atheists like me grabbing at microscopic crumbs of action like these.

I'm glad the Office is formally condemning awful abuses of human rights against religious people; don't get me wrong. But why is it that defending human rights violations against atheists seems to involve discreet whispers off camera and off record? Are we dirty goods?

Scientists have yet to confirm what exactly this last diplomatic move of support for atheists is. I seems small and mysterious; and the search goes on to discover others.

Monday, 9 December 2013

CFI's Michael De Dora & The Canadian Office of Religious Freedom

Michael De Dora (source)
While catching up on my podcasts, I ran into an interesting interview on Ask an Atheist with Michael De Dora, the director for CFI’s Office of Public Policy from November 24th.

Towards the end of the interview, Becky brought up the minor yet significant progress CFI Canada has made getting our Office of Religious Freedom to acknowledge the plight of atheists in countries where merely outing yourself can result in jail time or death.

I had to transcribe this the best I could. So please , if you can, listen to the original (at 33:33) and let me know if I made any substantial errors.
I coordinate with the people up in Canada. And actually it's very important that we coordinate on issues like that. When Canada announced it was launching this Office of International Religious Freedom and the director would be Andrew Bennett, one of the first things we did is we coordinated and CFI Canada sent up a letter to Andrew Bennett and said, "Hey, you're the new director and we're the largest Secular Humanist and skeptic group in Canada. We think that we should have a meeting with you to talk about some of our concerns." And he granted that meeting and they had a meeting with him. 
Now the great thing about that was that this was not just a one-off experience. What ended up happening is several months later, the NGO committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, which I mentioned before -- it's  an NGO committee CFI belongs to -- I'm the secretary of the committee and Matt Cherry is the president he's the IHEU representative. We then invited Andrew Bennett down to come to New York to have a meeting with our committee. And we ended up setting something up at the Canadian Mission across the street from the UN. 
And I met Andrew Bennett at the event and I said, "I'm Michael De Dora from the Center for Inquiry," and he said "Oh yeah, the Centre for Inquiry, I met those people up in Canada. I love you guys. It was a great meeting. We should definitely keep in touch and I'd like to work you going forward." 
And so, what we've actually been able to do now is because of our presence at the UN, even though he's the Canadian ambassador, we do have that international focus and so we've been able to coordinate with his office on some international religious freedom issues and we're hoping to do that even more going forward. The thing is, it's a little more difficult because they're not at the State Department, they're not just down the street. But because we have that international focus, it enables us to do that kind of work.
It's nice to know dialogue is continuing, because I haven't heard of any news in the media of the Office returning any calls from secularists since the last time CFI Canada met with them. These meetings with CFI in New York also seem to have generated no media releases on the Office of Religious Freedoms website either.

After listening to the interview I did some digging on the CFI website and came up with this update from June 17th:
- On June 17, OPP Director Michael De Dora attended a meeting with Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett, the Ambassador for Canada’s new Office of Religious Freedom. During this meeting, Dr. Bennett made it clear that this office is dedicated to defending and protecting the rights to freedom of belief and expression for all persons who face persecution, including the nonreligious. 
Better get defending then, Mr. Bennett.

No really, I see no movement by the Office whatsoever to speak out in favour of those without religion being persecuted in the name of religion. Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to see something's happening, but talk is cheap these days, isn't it? When are we going to see some action?

Friday, 25 October 2013

Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova Stands Up For Her Human Rights

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (source)
Here's one of those stories that is changing so quickly and is so important to me personally that I feel that it's best to describe it quickly and urge you read for yourselves. It has to do with the ridiculous jailing and mistreatment of Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.

She's one of my heroes.

She and fellow band members got thrown into a penal colony (yes, those still exist in Russia) after performing an anti-Putin song in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. Putin didn't like it, the clergy didn't like it. Putin and the clergy are best buddies these days.

There were calls of this being blasphemous and the Russian Orthodox Church - pals with Putin - wanted blood. Well, Tolokonnikova and her two band mates got thrown in the slammer for a two year sentence for something that ought to have gotten them nothing more than a fine.

After witnessing massive human rights violations and abuses on a daily basis, Nadezhda wrote a letter to the press documenting them that was re-published across the globe.
If you weren't Tolokonnikova, you would have had the shit kicked out of you a long time ago," say fellow prisoners with close ties to the administration. It's true: others are beaten up. For not being able to keep up. They hit them in the kidneys, in the face. Prisoners themselves deliver these beatings and not a single one of them is done without the approval and full knowledge of the administration. A year ago, before I came here, a gypsy woman in the third unit was beaten to death (the third is the pressure unit where they put prisoners that need to undergo daily beatings). She died in the medical unit of PC-14. The administration was able to cover it up: the official cause of death was a stroke. In another unit, new seamstresses who couldn't keep up were undressed and forced to sew naked.
Russian prison authorities claim this is simply not so and that she is seeking attention. I tend to believe her though. She then went on a hunger strike for the next nine days until she was too weak to continue and had to be rushed to a hospital for treatment.

Since then, due to her own safety concerns and her claims of being media-gagged, she has been moved to a new prison. I believe there is still some confusion about which prison, precisely.

Her band mate, who is still in prison, decided to stay behind bars to show solidarity to Nadezhda.
Meanwhile, Tolokonnikova's bandmate Maria Alekhina has withdrawn her request to have her two-year sentence reduced in a show of solidarity for her embattled pal.
Tolokonnikova has a husband and a young child on the outside.

And here's what bothers me as an atheist and a Canadian.

Tolokonnikova is actually a Canadian permanent resident. Her husband holds dual citizenship with Canada and Russia. Back when she was first arrested and charged, some hoped the Canadian Government would condemn this sentence and request a reduced sentence. No such thing ever happened. John Baird merely gave a sort of weak and ambiguous response and nothing more was ever said. Pathetic.

Alongside heroic religious young women like Malala Yousafzai we have heroic women like Audrey Mbugua and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.  These latter two are fighting against religion-based oppression. Which Canadian organization exists to speak out for their human rights?

Well, it's obviously not the Office of Religious Freedom.

Nobody in our Foreign Affairs ministry is standing up to those who are oppressed by religions or under the pretext of blasphemy or offending religious sentiment. That's just not what our government cares about.

The ORF only exists to defend the rights of religious people, not those who cannot believe in spirits and ghosts. Atheists and Nones are on their own in the dangerous world. Regardless of what you may have heard from Andrew Bennett, this office is blind to those with no faith and this gives me no faith at all in this office.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Bangladesh Court Throws Atheist Blogger Back Into Jail For No Apparent Reason

Asif Mohiuddin
So atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin was thrown back into prison this past Monday.

The judge decided that his continued health problems - after nearly being murdered - were insufficient grounds for him to remain on bail. Meanwhile, the other bloggers who were arrested for the very same crime remain on bail.

Asif is in no condition to withstand the imminent threats to his life in prison. Perhaps this is the hidden motive of the presiding judge.

A short editorial piece in the Dhaka Tribune puts it like this:
The recent decision made by a Dhaka court to refuse blogger Asif Mohiuddin’s bail petition seems unnecessary and illogical at best, vindictive and punitive at worst.
... 
While we do not opine here on the charges against the bloggers, and that is an issue best left to the courts, the motivation behind rejecting his bail petition is unclear to us.
From the Reporters Without Borders website: “UNJUSTIFIABLE” DECISION TO SEND BLOGGER BACK TO PRISON
“It is up to the judicial system to prove that it is absolutely necessary to keep Mohiuddin in detention. He has been suffering from major injuries ever since a knife attack in January and, although he received treatment during the month he was free, he has still not recovered. Sending him back to prison will just make his condition worse.”
I'm not sure why he stayed in Bangladesh - if he was in any position to be able to flee like fellow blogger Sharif Ahmed. But I wouldn't have held it against him in any way. If it was his decision to stay then he's very brave indeed. In any case, Canada should be doing something. It should at the very least denounce this persecution and offer some kind of asylum to Asif.

Just to put things into context here, a fellow atheist blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was found hacked to death in the streets of Dhaka.
“We also point out that bloggers are in danger in prison, that they are exposed to death threats from fellow inmates who are members of Islamist organizations such as Jamaat-e-Islami, Hizb ut-Tahrir and Hefazat-e-Islam.” (source)
Okay. I need to get off my lazy butt and contact Andrew Bennett over at the Office of Religious Freedom and ask him who I should be writing about this situation. Because his office is doing nothing but observing the situation. I know it is unlikely to do anything, considering: the president of Secular Connextion already wrote Bennett to no avail; secular groups protested in several cities on behalf of the Bangladeshi bloggers; and the CFI personally requested that the ORF speak out against the plight of Bangladeshi bloggers.

Yes, I know it won't do much good, but I got to do something!




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Friday, 26 July 2013

Office of Religious Freedom Ambassador Responds to Secular Connexion President

Atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin face covered with blood.
Atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin after being nearly stabbed to death.
So Bangladeshi atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin got stabbed and nearly died just for expressing his non-belief in gods or religion - exercising his freedom of conscience.

"We operated on him for more than three hours. He is improving but still not out of danger. He has six deep cuts including two grave ones in the shoulder," Haridas Saha, a surgeon at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told AFP.

Then he was thrown in jail for nearly three months where he became gravely ill.

You see, he was nearly murdered and then imprisoned for "hurting religious beliefs." Which is pretty much the same reason Egyptian Alber Saber was imprisoned. Both men were physically attacked and nearly killed just for expressing their honest disbelief in a god.

The IHEU published an English translation of one of Asif's final blog posts. I was written by Asif just after he was nearly stabbed to death and just prior to him being thrown into jail for hurting religious sensibilities. It's a gruesome and riveting read: "Speak, for the cup of hemlock is not yet on your lips" by jailed atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin.

Then, just last month, Asif was released on bail.  And how did he get this bail?  Did the Canadian Office of Religious Freedom ride in on white horses with Andrew Bennett at the lead?  Was there a press release made expressing Canada's outrage at this stifling of free speech and abuse of human rights?



No, I guess not. Too bad he wasn't a priest.  Lots of condemnation there, but nothing for Asif or any other atheist.

Nope, It turns out Asif was near the point of death and was so sick they had to release him right away.  I suppose they didn't want him to die before being properly convicted of the crime of blasphemy.  He's required to attend a hearing on August 25th concerning the blasphemy charges against him.  Who knows what will happen then. All the while his life is now in very real danger.

I have serious questions for Ambassador Bennett and have said I'd write him a letter about them.  Well it turns out that Doug Thomas, President of the Secular Connexion has beat me to it and has recently released his e-mail correspondences with Bennett to his organization's members.

On July 10th he wrote this, rather more kindly-worded letter than I would have sent, to Bennett.
Dear Ambassador Bennett: 
On the "Media Room" page of the Office of Religious Freedom site, there are many references to speeches and articles by Minister John Baird in reaction to persecution of religious people around the world. 
The titles use such strong words as "condemns"in reference to statements making it clear that he has consistently spoken out against persecution of religious people. 
Is the Office of Religious Freedom taking a similar, strong stand in response to the persecution of atheists in similar situations as exemplified by articles on the home page of The International Humanist and Ethical Union Website (iheu.org)? 
I have attached a pdf copy of one of the articles for your convenience. 
I look forward to hearing from you regarding this matter 
Doug Thomas
I've posted about this "Media Room" page before and even included colourful pie charts breaking down affected religious groups who's rights the Office is standing up for.  I don't mean to keep score here or anything, but the total number of persecuted secular and atheist groups the Office is standing up for is ZERO. You know, short of actively condemning the secular groups, the Office really cannot do any worse.

Here's Bennett's response to Thomas.
Dear Mr. Thomas, 
Thank you for your email of 10 July 2013 regarding the persecution of atheists.  I have noted your concerns and I have made reference to the concerns of atheists in my public statements.  For example, in a speech in Washington, D.C. on 18 April 2013 I said that, '...religious freedom does not just mean freedom to worship. It also means freedom to study one's faith; freedom to preach it; freedom to engage in missionary activity; freedom to change one's faith and- yes-freedom to hold no religious beliefs.' 
The Government of Canada established the Office of Religious Freedom on February 19, 2013, to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief as a Canadian foreign policy priority.  As a country made up of many cultures and faiths, Canada is uniquely placed to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief worldwide.  Canada has been a strong and committed supporter of individuals' right to freedom of religion or belief. This is addressed in Section 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which explicitly states that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion". 
In my public statements, I draw attention to the full range of rights associated with freedom of religion or belief.  Please see the following link for a list of statements dealing with the plight of various communities: http://www.international.gc.ca/religious_freedom-liberte_de_religion/media-room_salle-presse.aspx. 
I can assure you that the Office of Religious Freedom will continue to monitor the situation of atheist groups around the world and will take appropriate measures to promote their rights. 
Sincerely, 
Andrew P.W. Bennett, PhD
Bennett has noted our concerns and he's defended the human rights of atheists sort of like this.  I paraphrase.

"Religious freedom doesn't just mean freedom to worship (God)."

"You should also be able to study your religion."

"And preach it."

"And engage in missionary activity. "

"And to change from one faith to another faith...."

"Oh... and yeah... right... okay... sure..."

"... you should be able to hold no religious belief as well."

At least that's how it came off to me.

And he didn't bother writing any of this down anywhere. Perhaps this noble sentiment was either too self-obvious or lofty to descend upon the pages of a newspaper opinion piece or stoop to the level of an official Office of Religious Freedom statement to the media.  I mean, why demean such an idea by formalizing it into an official statement of Canada's revulsion, concern or condemnation? Best to just keep it amongst us Canadians or at dinner speeches or polite conversation with intellectuals.

The letter then launches into some kind of boiler plate response. Through the magic of cut and paste, we get the sickeningly ironic situation of the ambassador referring Thomas back to the "full range of rights associated with freedom of religion or belief." Which is to say, he refers Thomas back to the very same press release page Thomas pointed out to him. A page that contains nothing but support for the freedom of religion or belief and no support whatsoever for atheists having their human rights trampled by governments or groups under the aegis of religion. Well played, Mr. Bennett.

Then, much like a letter I received from Baird, Bennett assures that he will continue to monitor the situation of atheist groups around the world. Sorry, Mr Bennett, that post is already filled by other atheist and human rights groups around the world. I certainly hope you will take appropriate measures to promote their rights that don't involve doing nothing whatsoever or else, I dare say, the Office really isn't really all that useful at all.

Later, Thomas responded to Bennett's letter.
Dear Ambassador Bennett, 
Thank you for your in-depth reply to my email of July 10. Your references to the idea that freedom of religion includes the freedom to hold no religion are reassuring as is your statement of assurance that your office "will continue to monitor the situation with atheist groups around the world and take appropriate measures to promote their rights." 
I do have a concern with the notion of monitoring the situation of atheist groups. Since atheism is repressed in much of the world to some degree or another, and illegal in eleven countries, atheist groups are often non-existent, or difficult to contact. Individual atheists are the targets of theist regimes and religious extremists who are supported, tacitly or otherwise, by those regimes. Individual cases may be the appropriate targets in this environment. 
In this, I am reassured that in your April 18, Washington statement, you included the freedom to "engage in missionary activity." Given your assurances that protection of non-belief is included in your mandate and intent, I look forward to your comments on the case of Asif Mohiuddin, imprisoned in Bangladesh on April 3rd for writing an openly atheist blog after he was viciously attacked with a machete by Islamist extremists. Such a blog is the atheist equivalent of "missionary work" and as such should be a part of your office's mandate. 
Details of Asif's arrested and detainment, including a copy of his final blog are available at the International Humanist and Ethical Union website http://iheu.org/article-categories/general-news and other case information is available at http://iheu.org/article-categories/action-alert. 
I hope this information is useful to you in your continued work on behalf of inclusive human rights and look forward to any action you can take on behalf of atheists in peril. 
Sincerely, 
Doug Thomas
Well, it's a noble attempt. I hope Bennett will respond with something a little more substantive than his last answer.  I'm not holding my breath.

And I'm not assured by Bennett monitoring the situation at all. For me it's no more than code word for doing nothing at all. (This is already being done free of taxpayer money by other organizations.)

Surely, it's the ones monitoring the situation with the tools and resources to do something who are the most guilty when they do nothing at all.

Here's what Bennett and his Office should do. I'd be one proud Canadian if they did.
  1. Declare unambiguously that, like religious belief, holding no religious belief is a universal human right.
  2. Publicly and officially condemn any government, group or individual who persecutes other individuals or groups because of their lack of religious faith.
  3. Urge the Canadian government to offer asylum and refugee status in Canada to all those like Asif Mohiuddin (and their spouses and any children) who are under immediate physical threat.
Of course this will never happen.

Perhaps Asif Mohiuddin would be wise to flee his country like fellow Bangladeshi blogger Sharif Ahmed did. He is now hoping to receive refugee status in Canada. Both men were nearly killed for being openly atheist.

As for the Office of Religious Freedom. I think that by its very nature it is flawed. Its mission parameters are so narrow that it cannot do anything but protect religious interests around the globe. It is not a truly human rights oriented organization but rather a religious (right?) rights organization that strives to defend and promote religion and the religious.  When it comes to the non-religious being persecuted and killed in the name of religion, it will be forever mute because it is simply not set up to hold the interests of both the religious and non-religious in the same hand.

The only equivalent for secular agency was Rights and Democracy (International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development), which was scrapped by John Baird's government only to be replaced by the ORF this year by: John Baird's government.

Rights and Democracy was an independent organization that tried to advance human rights in general. The official government story is that it tore itself apart due to in-fighting and controversy. But the opposition believes it was deliberately scuttled like so many other progressive programs. Anyway, whatever happened, the government seemed pretty keen on throwing it in the trash bin rather than attempting to fix it.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Dominic LeBlanc sums up the closure of Rights and Democracy like this:
"This Conservative government has tried to use Rights and Democracy to advance its own ideological agenda. When that failed, they drove the organization into trouble and then killed it off as a 'cost-cutting' measure," he said in a print statement. 
"The Conservatives will now use the newly created Office of Religious Freedom, inside the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, to advance a narrower agenda," LeBlanc's statement continued. "This office will not be arm's length."
Sadly, I don't think you'll see the Office of Religious Freedom standing up for atheists any time soon. Perhaps if the government changes.

I'll still get those e-mails out to Bennett soon.

I'd like to thank Doug Thomas over at the Secular Connexion for releasing the letter and Veronica Abbass at the Canadian Atheist for drawing my attention to them.



Children standing in front of Kasese Humanist Primary School in Uganda.
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Word Back From Conservative MP About Persecution of Atheists: "Try calling the ORF".

Conservative MP Bev Shipley
So a few days ago I did a post on Motion 382, put forward by Conservative MP Bev Shipley and passed this past April.

On the whole, I thought it was a pretty good motion. It just suffered from one critical flaw: it didn't ever recognize the existence of those non-religious who are persecuted for their lack of belief in a country's dominant religion.

So I wrote Bev the following e-mail.  It's not the most elegant piece of prose, but I didn't particularly expect a response anyway.
Dear Mr Shipley, 
I recently read about the passing of Motion 382. Congratulations on this achievement!
I wrote about this recently on my personal blog:
 
http://www.mysecretatheistblog.com/2013/06/secularism-misrepresented-conservative.html 
I was surprised that you were surprised that the Bloc agreed to go along. I put up a theory of mine - the secularist nature of that party - but on second thought, I would like to get your opinion on this in case you had a different reason for being surprised. 
Being a secularist myself, I support your bill.   I have severe reservations about the Office of Religious Freedom, but I would vote for your bill in the name of all those who are being badly persecuted because of their religious belief. I subscribe to "Gospel for Asia's" newsletter and I read about these problems in India. 
The only thing I take some issue with is the situation for many non-religious people in highly theocratic countries across the world. 
http://www.centerforinquiry.net/cfe/ 
Your bill would have been perfect if it included the plight of the non-believer who is being persecuted for being an "apostate". 
Please share your thoughts on this. 
Thank you!  
I really thought it would be good to get Bev's input on this, or at least let him know what I did make a few hypotheses in the post about why he may have found himself surprised that the Quebec government took the same position as him on his bill.

Well, a couple of days later, to my surprise, I get this response from one of his assistants.
Dear Mr <   >, 
On behalf of Mr. Shipley, I acknowledge receipt of your email. Thank you for your interest in his Motion 382 on Religious Freedom. Mr. Shipley recommends you contact the Ambassador of the Office of Religious Freedom with your concerns surrounding discrimination of “apostates”. 
Regards,
Sarah Brown
Parliamentary Assistant to
Bev Shipley, MP
SW Ontario Caucus Chair
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex
613-947-4581
I guess this means the e-mail was passed on to him and he read it? So I presume he now knows about the plight of persecuted atheists and non-religious folk around the world?  I guess so.

Sadly, Mr. Shipley doesn't have much to say about the situation of so many of our international brothers and sisters in non-belief - although he has a great deal to say about the reverse situation.  He did champion and pass a bill that appears to work for the human rights of pretty much everyone except the non-religious when it comes to religious persecution around the world.

This isn't particularly surprising. One shouldn't jump to the conclusion that it was done intentionally at all. The atheist community is so small across the world and so silent (often for its own survival) that it often doesn't make it onto people's radar.

And as for not jumping to our aid after being reminded about atheists, I really shouldn't be surprised by his response either, especially after I did a little more research on Shipley.

The rightwing watchdog website Reform Parliament's Watchdog sums up Shipley's positions on social issues like this:

What ever possessed me to write this guy? Here's some information I dug up myself since the above site is sort of old and it's not good to rely on just one reference.

Abortion:
Mr. Speaker, I have four petitions to present today. Each of them calls on the House to enact legislation that restricts abortion to the greatest extent possible. These individuals have a strong personal conviction for the protection of the unborn. 
The petitions come from Grace Canadian Reformed Church in Kerwood, the Providence United Reformed Church in Strathroy, the Association for Reformed Political Action, and also the students and teachers at Providence Reformed Collegiate.
In fact, Campaign Life Coalition gives Shipley a "green light" when it comes to abortion issues. This is a red light for me.

Same-Sex Marriage:
That is what this whole debate is about. It is about the fundamentals of what this country was based on. It is about the definition of marriage and it is about the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of others.
 Fundamentalist church:
Bev is an active member of Community Bible Church, Middlesex Centre, and is a volunteer in numerous community organizations.
If you check out the Community Bible Church About Us page you'll find that they "believe that the Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the written Word of God and, therefore, inerrant in the original documents and absolutely authoritative." I wasn't able to find his position on Evolution, but I can only guess it's likely to be not so good.

So this guy is obviously not going to be too helpful and publicly denouncing the poor treatment of non-believers in the name of religion is just not his department.  His kind assistant did let me know who is supposed to deal with this particular matter: a smallish government office by the name of the Office of Religious Freedom.  Gee, never heard of it. Gee, I wonder who heads it.
Mr. Shipley recommends you contact the Ambassador of the Office of Religious Freedom with your concerns surrounding discrimination of “apostates”. 
So apparently it is the job of Andrew Bennett's ORF to protect the rights and freedoms of the unbelievers. Well, at least from the pen of Bev Shipley. Unfortunately, the atheist community has gone down that path before and Bennett has even commented:
So the concerns of atheists, I understand it. And we will monitor it. And we will speak out if we need to. But I think we can’t lose sight of the fact that disproportionately the people being persecuted for freedom of religion are believe
Oh bureaucracy! Oh typical government run-around! Was not Rome just like this before its Decline and Fall? Oh, Fie.

For fun, I responded back asking if I could have a direct e-mail for Bennett, since I am rather keen to send him an e-mail with these concerns.
Dear Mr. < >,

Upon making inquiries, I have been provided with the below contact address for Ambassador Bennett.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
Attn: Office of Religious Freedom
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0G2

You may also wish to check their website for information on the office: http://www.international.gc.ca/religious_freedom-liberte_de_religion/index.aspx.

Have a nice evening.

Sincerely,

Sarah Brown
Parliamentary Assistant to
Bev Shipley, MP
SW Ontario Caucus Chair
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex
613-947-4581
No direct e-mail there. 

Now apparently, Bennett is also dean of Augustine College, so I could try dean@augustinecollege.org.

But I think I'll try out good old ink and paper. It got me a letter back from John Baird.  Perhaps I'll get one from Andrew Bennett to add to my collection.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Office of Religious Freedom Ambassador Mentions Atheists! But We're Not Really His Greatest Priority.

CFI Kevin Smith (left),  CFI Michael Payton (centre),  Ambassador of 
Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett (right).
There is an interview published today in the Globe and Mail with Andrew Bennett, the ambassador of the somewhat-newly minted Office of Religious Freedom.

In it he actually mentions the plight of persecuted atheists and the non-religious around the world!

And then he pretty much admits that, well, they're just not a big priority for him, really. Oh well.

I found this synopsis of the interview first.  I here preserve my initial reaction.

New religious-freedom watchdog faces uphill battle
The religious-freedom ambassador said he’s also monitoring the treatment of atheists abroad. “Freedom of religion includes the freedom not to have a particular religious faith,” he said. “I think that’s just logically consistent.”
Well at least atheists have logic to save them because there doesn't seem to be much basic human compassion or love of basic human rights going on within the office of Foreign Affairs when it comes to jailed, tortured or killed atheists. Right, I guess that's theoretically consistent, right?
But he signalled his greatest priority would be believers. “The vast majority of people being persecuted are people of faith. They are the ones that are being killed. They are the ones that are facing legislative and regulatory restrictions.”
Well I guess that's only logical too, isn't it? Because it's only the people of faith who are being killed or facing legislative and regulatory restrictions.

Un-freaking-believable.

But this is a second-hand account of what Bennett said. I later found that the Globe also provides a more verbatim version of the interview that contains a more detailed account of his response. Kudos to the Globe for asking him about  the treatment of atheists and what he is going to do about it! - the very first question on the page!

Verbatim: Andrew Bennett explains the mandate of his office
On how his office will monitor treatment of atheists 
Freedom of religion includes the freedom not to have a particular religious faith. I think that’s just logically consistent. With regards to atheists and people who choose not to have a particular religious faith … obviously we need to listen to their concerns. 
I would say that we see in the world today – there’s some concerns around atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, for example. We need to monitor that situation, which we are. … 
So just because we haven’t made a statement doesn’t mean we’re not following it. 
On whether he will defend the rights of atheists 
It’s a concern but I think we also need to realize the vast majority of people being persecuted are people of faith. They are the ones that are being killed. They are the ones that are facing legislative and regulatory restrictions. 
So the concerns of atheists, I understand it. And we will monitor it. And we will speak out if we need to. But I think we can’t lose sight of the fact that disproportionately the people being persecuted for freedom of religion are believers. 
People of faith are the ones that are worshipping. They are the ones that are engaging in missionary activity. They are ones that are being forced into conversion in certain countries.
Again, we have this idea of people who choose not to have a particular religious faith as if not believing in something is some sort of conscious choice. I suppose, if I were living in Iran, I would choose to say I was a believing Muslim, but that to say I truly believed in the Prophet would be a lie, plain and simple. My freedom of expression is squashed.

And the situation in Bangladesh. They are monitoring it? This is the same verb I got in John Baird's response to my letter about Alexander Aan.  Monitoring the situation seems to be code for not doing anything to me.

Yes, they need to monitor the situation and do something about it. Otherwise, who's mandate is it to protect the rights of non-religious people? Do we need some other organization that deals with human rights in general and does not discriminate against people based on whether or not they are religious?

Practically speaking, the ORF not making any statements comes to the very same thing - whether they're following it or not. In fact, I think that inaction is even less excusable if you're following it because then you cannot claim ignorance. Like God himself, the ORF knows about the situation and is sitting aloft in the clouds doing nothing about it when they have the power to act. So how are they any the less to blame for their inaction by monitoring it?

Now is the time to speak out, Mr. Bennett. You really need to.

And yes, I do see that the people being persecuted are indeed disproportionally are believers.  This is absolutely horrible and I am all for protesting it and condemning it.

As for the disproportionality of this.  I think it's proportional actually. The majority of people on this planet are one religion or another. Very few people are non-religious.  If they're is going to be any persecution in the name of religion, it's highly likely the people on the receiving end are going to be religious.

But for those who are not religious - the cracks are wide open and they are falling through them. They're getting no love from anyone in this situation. They are showing up on no one's radar. Why is this?
People of faith are the ones that are worshipping. They are the ones that are engaging in missionary activity. They are ones that are being forced into conversion in certain countries.
Who cares whether or not people are worshipping? Who cares about whether or not they are doing missionary activity? How does this elevate their priority over those who are not religious? Honestly, should it make a difference that these people are religious? It shouldn't really because these are basic human rights.  But I can understand this is an Office of Religious Freedom.  They're mandate is to protect religious people, well at least in practice.

As for forced conversions. Atheists are being forced into conversion in certain countries every day. They are forced by religious people to shut up or go into exile on a regular basis - when they even dare to speak out. To say atheists are not being forced into silence or secrecy under pain of dire circumstances is, quite frankly, an affront to reality itself and seems rather disingenious.

So, it seems that even after his long-awaited meeting with the Center for Inquiry, Bennett just doesn't see a problem with the treatment of atheists and the non-religious across the world. Apparently he is undaunted by the 2012 IHEU report, what's happening in Bangladesh, Alber Saber, Alexander Aan, Iranian atheists living in fear, bloggers like Sharif Ahmed, and the list goes on.


I digress.

Anyway, maybe the office is just bogged down. Perhaps they just haven't had a chance to prepare any statements in denouncing the muzzling, persecution, jailing, beating and killing of those who don't happen to believe in any religion.
After he was released from more than a week of detention by Sri Lankan police last month, Muslim leader Azath Salley personally telephoned Ottawa’s High Commission in Colombo to thank Canada for condemning his arrest. 
It was an unusually quick success for Andrew Bennett, the Harper government’s newly minted Ambassador of Religious Freedom, whose denunciation of the imprisonment a day after the arrest made Canada one of the first countries to speak out publicly in defence of Mr. Salley’s rights.
The day after the arrest.  Mr Bennet whipped off his Clark Kent glasses, donned his Super Man suit in mere seconds, and did the right thing - saving Mr. Salley. This is fantastic work.

I completely support Bennett's work to protect the basic human rights of the religious across the globe. I just wish he would take off his Clark Kent glasses and save the day for those who are being persecuted in the name of religion because they are, themselves non-religious. What gives?

Come on, Mr. Bennett.  We know you have the power.  It's only logical.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Office of Religious Freedom Is Working Out Pretty Much How I Expected, Sadly.

What will the office of religious freedom do? For atheists,
apparently nothing. If you want it to look out of you, better
get religion.
You know, I've been real busy lately with the new house and it's not like I had oodles of time before either.  I frankly haven't been able to keep up with much of anything at all outside of renovations.

So I started this here blog post ante-domus and was a little concerned while the move was going on that it would become irrelevant.  Would the Office actually make a statement condemning the violation of the human rights of Bangladeshi bloggers?

Okay, that was selfish of me. I would have been thrilled if the Office had done anything at all to help anyone anywhere who is an atheist and is being persecuted by religiously-motivated governments. I would have blogged it happily and would have even put down my screwdriver and stopped my renovations just to type the post. But it turns out I had nothing to worry about. It seems as if Andrew Bennett is now squarely at the helm of his new ship and it isn't coming anywhere near to helping stranded and persecuted non-believers anywhere.

You see, back in April 4th, the CFI got to meet with Bennett for the first time ever. They, nor any other secular or atheist group, had ever been consulted before - although they did consult this beauty pageant contestant.  It seemed like finally they were interested in speaking with the non-religious, after a great deal of media attention about how they were snubbing us all along, naturally.

So during the April 4th meeting, Bennett apologized for this oversight and it looked like we might get some kind of help from the agency for non-religious who were being persecuted in the name of religion. So on April 14th, the CFI asked Bennett to truly show his commitment to secular and atheist victims of persecution, like the bloggers and Sharif Ahmed.

Well, I suppose talk is cheap. My hope is all gone.

I went back to the Office's website, in the media section, to check if maybe they did something under the radar that I missed while ferrying boxes in the past week or so. Here's a list of announcements since the Office was inaugurated back in February.

2013-03-08: None specified
2013-03-09: Christians
2013-03-13: Christians (Catholics, New Pope)
2013-03-22: Muslims
2013-04-02: Muslims
2013-04-25: Christians (Orthodox)
2013-05-03: Muslims (Bennett's first)
2013-05-06: Christians
2013-05-14: Bahá’ís
2013-05-17: Muslims

I'm showing the dates and the groups that are being identified directly as being victims of persecution or the subject of praise or congratulation (as with the announcement after Pope Francis was chosen - only a couple of these). I could be wrong here and there, I've done my best to keep things only to explicit mentions of groups.

I'm not begrudging these announcements. The Office appears to be doing its job and actively calling out human rights violations when it sees them. They just don't seem to be looking out for the human rights of atheists, that's all. It's not surprising and sad. If only we had an office of human rights to protect humans rather than this office that only seems to care about religions.  Oh yeah, we did have just that but it got killed while the ORF was still  in-utero by the very same government that was pushing the ORF down our necks.

Now the March 8th announcement doesn't name anyone specifically, but it does condemn the violent situation in Bangladesh. This announcement was done before the meeting with CFI, so I tend to disregard it.
Canada Condemns Deadly Violence in Bangladesh 
March 8, 2013 - Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement: 
“Canada is deeply concerned by the escalating and deadly violence that has injured thousands and claimed the lives of scores of Bangladeshis. We urge all parties to end the violence, to work toward peacefully resolving the conflict and to reverse the growing divisions in Bangladeshi society. 
“We also call on authorities to protect the rights and the lives of all Bangladeshis. 
“We condemn in the strongest terms senseless attacks on civilians, most notably those on minorities in their homes and places of worship. Canada has welcomed Bangladesh’s commitment to pluralism and religious freedom, and we encourage further efforts by the government and all parties to promote peace and tolerance throughout the country. 
“In the lead-up to parliamentary elections, we call on all parties to respect the rights to freedom of expression and of assembly and urge everyone to exercise these rights in a peaceful and democratic manner.”
I'm parsing this noble yet broad statement and the only noticeable group I can get out of it is most notably those on minorities in their homes and places of worship. I wholeheartedly agree, but what about those who do not attend places of worship? What about those who decide to exercise their freedom of speech on the Internet?  They're in jail right now and I see no mention of them here or in any following statements.

Just for completeness sake, I did the same thing for all the other announcements on ORF's media room site. I came up with this:
2011-07-07 Christians, Bahá’ís
2011-08-03 Christians
2011-08-16 None specified
2011-09-02 Christians, Bahá’ís
2011-09-28 Christians, Bahá’ís
2011-10-04 Muslims
2011-10-19 Christians, Bahá’ís
2011-11-05 None specified
2011-12-06 Muslims
2011-12-09 None specified
2011-12-16 Muslims
2011-12-25 Christians
2012-02-13 Jews
2012-03-14 None specified
2012-04-08 Christians
2012-04-22 Christians
2012-04-29 Christians
2012-05-14 Christians, Bahá’í
2012-06-19 Muslims
2012-06-20 None specified
2012-06-28 Jews
2012-07-01 Christians
2012-07-28 Jews
2012-07-31 None specified (as victims)
2012-08-05 Sikhs
2012-08-07 Christians
2012-08-20 None specified
2012-09-12 None specified
2012-10-14 Muslims
2012-10-26 Muslims
2012-10-26 None specified
2012-10-28 Christians
2012-12-10 Christians, Bahá’í
2012-12-14 Buddhists
2012-12-20 None specified
2013-01-29 Jews
2013-02-01 Muslims
2013-02-19 None specified
I even went ahead and threw the entries in from above and made a pie chart.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to see the government calling out persecution of these groups, but as you can see, non-believers get no pie.



Yep, now that the heat is off from the press, it looks like the ORF is showing its true colours. Apparently there is no religious freedom problem in Bangladesh - religion is doing just fine there - there is merely a human rights problem. And it seems to me that this new Office of Religious Freedom is not interested in looking out for human rights, just religious rights.