In a document for consideration by the world body's Human Rights Council, a global organization linking people who reject religion said atheism was banned by law in a number of states where people were forced to officially adopt a faith.

"Extensive discrimination by governments against atheists, humanists and the non-religious occurs worldwide," declared the grouping, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) which has some 120 member bodies in 45 countries.

In Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan "atheists can face the death penalty on the grounds of their belief" although this was in violation of U.N. human rights accords, the IHEU said.

Further, in several others legal measures "effectively criminalize atheism (and) the expression and manifestation of atheist beliefs" or lead to systematic discrimination against freethinkers, the document declared.

It was submitted to the rights council as it opened its annual Spring session against a background of new efforts in the U.N. by Muslim countries to obtain a world ban on denigration of religion, especially what they call "Islamophobia".

Three of the states with legislation providing for death for blasphemy against Islam, a charge which can be applied to atheists who publicly reveal their ideas, are on the council - Pakistan, Mauritania and Maldives.