An Atheist Behind Bars
Posted by Ethan Clow on June 29, 2012
One thing freethinkers should be thankful for is that they don’t live in Indonesia. That’s because you can go to jail for being an atheist there. And that’s what happened for Alexander Aan, a 30-year- old civil servant and a self-confessed atheist, who has been sentenced to two-and-half years in jail for being an atheist.
The really sad thing? He’s better off in jail where he’s safe from beatings and attacks. Aan was convicted of hate crimes for posting on Facebook that he was an atheist and saying such horrible things like “god does not exist.” He also posted controversial pictures of Muhammad, which as we all know is totally unforgivable. In addition to his hateful unbelief, he will also have to pay $10000 in damages to society.
Once word of this spread, radical Islamist groups tracked him down and attacked him, they dragged him around and beat him, his attackers did not face legal consequences for this.
Ironically, Aan was convicted on charges of blasphemy. Instead the court ruled that he was inciting hatred. (ironically hatred he was the victim of but never mind…)
There’s an article called Is there room for atheists in Indonesia? and it seems to come to the grim conclusion that no, there isn’t. It’s a haunting thought to wonder if atheists have the right to exist in Indonesia, and more importantly, if they are considered as being outside the constitution, can they expect state protections just as all other citizens?
In the Preamble to the Constitution of Indonesia, it is stated as an important principle to “Believe in the One Supreme God”. Later in article 28 of the Constitution is a guarantee of freedom of religions, of course this does not mean there is freedom not to believe in any religion or even in the existence of God.
By government regulation, there are only six religions — Islam, Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism — that are recognized by the state. So there is freedom of religion, freedom to choose one of those six. And by “freedom to choose one of those six” we actually mean you’re free to chose Islam or radical groups will attack you and beat you in the streets.
Even local human rights organizations, which had been vocal in defending the freedom of religious minorities, have largely remained silent throughout Aan’s case.
Indonesia’s record on freedom of religion has come under international scrutiny in the past year following a series of attacks by radical Islamic groups against religious minorities. At the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, Indonesia had to answer questions from other governments about the treatment of some religious minorities and the lack of protection from the state.
All this taken together paints a rather dim picture of just how “free” religion is in Indonesia.
We in the secular west often take our secular societies for granted. There are lots of cases where being a public skeptic and atheist has resulted in egregious violations of human rights.
A Kuwaiti man was sentenced to 10 years of hard labour in prison after he was convicted of endangering state security by insulting the Prophet Mohammad on Twitter.
The judge found him guilty of insulting the Prophet, the Prophet’s wife and companions, mocking Islam, provoking sectarian tensions, and misusing his mobile phone to spread the comments.
Fortunately for him a new amendment to the criminal code in Kuwait did not take effect. Earlier this year the Kuwaiti parliament overwhelmingly voted for the death penalty for blasphemy. The emir rejected the amendment but can be overruled by a two thirds majority, so check back on that one.
In Pakistan last year, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, was killed by gunmen in Islamabad as he was travelling to work, a few weeks after he had vowed to defy death threats over his efforts to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
In India, In 2007, the police in Pune arrested four Bangalore-based software-engineers for posting on the Internet an quote obscene profile of Chhatrapati Shivaji, a sixteenth-century Maratha warrior king, clad in female underwear.
In 2007, the authorities charged ninety-one-year-old Maqbool Fida Husain with hurting religious sentiments by painting Mother India as a naked woman
And of course, Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association was charged with blasphemy for proving that a weeping statue wasn’t a miracle but a hoax on national TV.
If you are interested in helping out Alexander Aan, here are some ways to support him. Atheist Alliance International has launched an appeal for donations to help pay for Aan’s legal costs and to support the Aan family’s living expenses while he is in jail, at http://www.atheistalliance.org/support-aai/donate(Legal/Support Fund for Alex Aan).
CFI Transnational wants to make the voices of those who support Alexander loud and clear to the Indonesian government. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is organizing a letter-writing campaign on Alexander’s behalf, and CFI urges you to take part. They have created a custom letter which you can sign or add to and add your voice to those fighting for Aan’s freedom.