|May 19, 2016
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
The Honorable León Rodríguez
U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services
Washington, D.C. 20529
Dear Commissioner Grandi, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Jonson, and Director Rodriguez:
The Secular Policy Institute and Atheist Alliance International call on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United States to intervene and begin asylum proceedings for two individuals who face imminent risk to life and limb. An Iranian and a Pakistani expatriate whose countries of origin employ capital punishment for apostasy have been denied asylum in India and Malaysia. An overarching first principle of asylum and refugee policy is designed to protect those who face a fear of persecution for reasons for race, religion, nationality, participation in a social group, or political opinion. Where the network of international agreements and treaties is neither comprehensive nor consistent, the clear commitment from the majority of states, NGO’s and Civil Society Actors is to aid the most vulnerable and those in the most imminent of danger.
The United Nations expresses a global consensus and sets global standards for human rights and refugee and asylum procedures. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights lay a clear standard for the inviolable freedoms of conscience and political agency. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and its 1967 follow-up protocol establish a framework from which those unable to achieve the full recognitions and dignity of equal-personhood can receive the relief of temporary settlement or permanent repatriation. According to protocol, those seeking asylum must present a well-founded fear of persecution. There are known and reported incidents in both Iran and Pakistan of those put to death for expressing doubt in religious doctrine or text.
Article 259(c) of Pakistan’s Penal Code states that “[W]hoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” The vagaries of what could be construed as “innuendo” give license to persecution. Such strictures have listed Pakistan as a Tier 1 Country of Particular Concern for the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) (a designation carrying automatic calls for executive remedy). Iran is similarly listed as a USCIRF Tier 1-recommended state. In “Prisoners of Belief” (2014) the USCIRF has detailed specific incidents where individuals have been imprisoned or executed for the reasons why said expatriates have sought asylum. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain have published further reports of greater specificity of the persecution of Atheists and Humanists in these states.
We call on the High Commissioner of Refugees and the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security to help find safe harbor for those refugees of conscience who face extended imprisonment or death itself.
Secular Policy Institute
401 Ninth St., NW, Suite 640
Washington, DC 20004