Atheist Youth in Yemen Shot to Death by Islamist Radicals

Omar Batawil

A 17-year-old Yemeni youth, who identified with atheism, was brutally killed by a fanatic religious group last month as he dared to challenge one of the country’s three taboos: religion, politics and sex. Omar Mohammed Batawil, who often raised questions about Allah and the concept of afterlife and heaven—who strongly criticized organized religion, religious scholars as well as religious institutions on his Facebook page—was accused of apostasy, abducted from front of his home and killed by Islamist radicals on April 24.

Omar Batawil

When his body was discovered the following afternoon, residents concluded that the young boy had been shot to death.

One of his Facebook statuses, translated from Arabic, reads as follows:

“They accuse me of atheism!
Oh you people, I see God in the flowers,
And you see Him in the graveyards,
That is the difference between me and you.”

While mainstream media somehow failed to track this story, many salutations for the young brave heart were shared across social media.

“RIP Omar, you're not the first to die for his opinions at the hands of Islamists, and you won't be the last. But thanks to you and many others, someday the light of reason will shine,” read one post while another stated, “Rest in courage, sweet Omar! You’ll always be my hero!”

According to sources, Batawil had been receiving death threats for a while because of his critical approach towards religion and his public posts on Facebook.

Renouncing Islam and shifting faith to any other religion is understood to be a crime punishable by death in not only Yemen; but also other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. In practice though, this law is not implemented these days so Muslim-majority nations—typically abiding by Sharia law—can avoid international condemnation and consequential embarrassment. That is probably why Islamist militants in these countries have assumed such chores to be part of their self-imposed vigilante duties in the face of their respective governments not doing enough to tackle atheism or blasphemy related charges.

While such killings may be drawing inspiration from the acts of terrorist organizations like Islamic State, we must remember how they have also been legitimized by national laws preventing blasphemy and administrations denying citizens the right to freedom of belief. As threats and attacks against dissenting individuals continue to grow in certain countries where the government is either unwilling or unable to offer protection to its people, venomous leaflets (like the one quoted below) are only one of the many kinds of religious persecution that nonbelievers have to bear in comparison to believers.

Titled ‘Notice to atheists’, one such leaflet states, “To every atheist who reviles and incites hatred of Islam in social media: Your end is to choke to death, to perish as an animal perishes, to be cast under dirt and mud and have worms eat your rotten body. No one will remember you; it will be as if you never existed…” before ending with the phrase, “Islam will remain until the Day of Judgment.”

Photo Credits: Alshamel News

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