Non-believers and non-religious people say they are being targeted by "hate campaigns" in countries around the world, as a distinct minority group, a new report has found.
The report claims that the "hate speech" against atheists does not come exclusively from reactionary or radical religious leaders, but increasingly from political leaders, including heads of State.
The report is published on December 10 by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), the Freedom of Thought Report.
It states: "In 2014, in addition to laws such as those targeting "apostasy" and "blasphemy", we have seen a marked increase in specific targeting of "atheists" and "humanism."
In countries, such as Russia, where communist ideology has been replaced by Orthodox Christianity which dominated before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, any public expression of atheist views can be equated with blasphemy and criminalized, Reuters news agency reported.
Cases cited in the report include the Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who this year labelled "humanism and secularism as well as liberalism" as "deviant" and a threat to Islam and the State itself.
In a speech the report said Razak also denied that Malaysians had any right to "apostasy" [leaving Islam].
Saudi Arabia is criticized for a new law equating "atheism" with "terrorism."
The report noted that the first article of the Saudi kingdom's new terror regulations ban, "Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion."
The report said that "even the supposedly secular regime of Egypt's president Sisi was found to target atheists directly, through what it calls "an organized backlash against young atheists."
It said that from June, Nuamat Sati of Egypr's Ministry of Youth announced a campaign to spread awareness of "the dangers of atheism" and why it is "a threat to society."
This was done so that young atheists in particular, who are increasingly vocal on social media will be given "a chance to reconsider their decisions and go back to their religion."
The Thought Report stated that in the past few months, Egyptian authorities have detained young atheists who appeared on TV media and Youtube videos talking about their right to express atheist views.
It further said that "in a worrying and unusual development in November, Christian churches actually 'joined forces' with Egypt's Al-Azhar in another anti-atheism campaign, saying that "Society should resist this phenomenon [of atheism]."
The Freedom of Thought Report each year surveys and rates every country in the world for anti-atheist persecution.
It said almost all countries discriminate against the non-religious, in some cases through religious privilege or legal exemptions, with the worst countries taking children from atheist parents, or with laws mandating death sentences for "apostates" (in 13 Islamic states).
The 2014 edition of the report notes: "This year will be marked by a surge in this phenomenon of State officials and political leaders agitating specifically against non-religious people, just because they have no religious beliefs, in terms that would normally be associated with hate speech or social persecution against ethnic or religious minorities."