News / Asia

Facebook Atheist Jailed in Indonesia

30 year-old Indonesian Alexander Aan listens to the judges delivering his verdict in West Sumatra, June 14, 2012.30 year-old Indonesian Alexander Aan listens to the judges delivering his verdict in West Sumatra, June 14, 2012.
30 year-old Indonesian Alexander Aan listens to the judges delivering his verdict in West Sumatra, June 14, 2012.
30 year-old Indonesian Alexander Aan listens to the judges delivering his verdict in West Sumatra, June 14, 2012.
Kate Lamb
JAKARTA - An Indonesian man extolling the virtues of atheism and posting controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad online has been jailed for two-and-a-half years. It is a verdict human rights activists say is a step backward for the majority Muslim nation they say is known for religious tolerance.
It was posting the words “God does not exist” on his Facebook page that first caused trouble for 30-year-old Alexander Aan.
The civil servant from Sumatra was beaten by an angry mob and later arrested, but it was not only for his admission of atheism.
Aan had also posted several explicit cartoons of the prophet Muhammad online, one depicting the prophet having sex with his servant, another that showed him finding his daughter-in-law sexually alluring.
Facing charges of blasphemy, inciting hatred and encouraging atheism, a Sumatra court ruled Thursday that Aan will spend the next two-and-a-half years in prison and pay a $10,000 fine.
His lawyer Deddi Alparesi said the decision is unjust. The judges did not consider the facts, Aparesi said, as Alexander never intended to spread religious hatred.
The lawyer also pointed out that an Islamic professor even took to the stand to verify that Aan is “theologically anxious” and does not have anyone with whom he can discuss his thoughts on atheism.
While the charges of blasphemy and promoting atheism were dismissed, Aan was found guilty of spreading religious hatred under the controversial 2008 electronic transactions law.
His legal team intends to appeal the ruling, but analysts say it is another setback for religious freedom in Indonesia.  
Like the uproar in many Muslim-majority countries following the 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, the case has raised debate over the distinction between freedom of expression and inciting religious hatred.
Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch compared Aan's sentence with the few months Islamic hardliners were given for beating three individuals to death last year in Jakarta.  He says the ruling is symbolic of deepening religious intolerance.
“It says a lot about the relative impunity of people that commit violence in the name of religion, meanwhile while those people who politely using no violence, no matter how controversial it is, is now being punished to 30 months in prison,” Harsono said.
In other acts of religious intolerance across the country this week, a national book publisher was pressured into burning hundreds of copies of a book that allegedly defames the prophet.
In Aceh, religious conservatives demanded the closure of 20 churches and, last week, there was a move to ban the sale of tight clothing in the sharia ruled province.
Earlier this month, flamboyant U.S. pop star Lady Gaga canceled the Jakarta leg of her Asian tour after Islamic hardliners threatened to block the concert.
Freedom of religion is technically guaranteed in the world’s most-populous Muslim nation, but Indonesians must adhere to one of the six official religions. Atheism is not a sanctioned option.

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Comment Sorting
by: NVO from: USA
June 18, 2012 8:52 AM
So does belief in God have intellectual warrant? Is there a rational, logical, and reasonable argument for the existence of God? Absolutely. While atheists such as Freud claim that those believing in God have a wish-fulfillment desire, perhaps it is Freud and his followers who actually suffer from wish-fulfillment: the hope and wish that there is no God, no accountability, and therefore no judgment. But refuting Freud is the God of the Bible who affirms His existence and the fact that a judgment is indeed coming for those who know within themselves the truth that He exists but suppress that truth (Romans 1:20). But for those who respond to the evidence that a Creator does indeed exist, He offers the way of salvation that has been accomplished through His Son, Jesus Christ: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13).
In Response

by: Lizard from: USA
June 20, 2012 11:10 AM
@ NVO,

Rational? Logical? You can't even use those words in the same sentence with you god. Atheist= No belief in a god Religious=Beliefs in a god with no evidence. Which one is logical with the evidence we currently have? I rest my case.

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
June 17, 2012 12:20 AM
religions are disgusting. I am glad Communist party put all religions under control. That is the only way to keep a country safe. it is like keeping tigers in the cages if you still want to keep them alive.

by: luzmejor
June 16, 2012 3:01 PM
No good deed goes unpunished. If truth were told, although people do believe in good and know it when they see it, they have seen precious little of mercy in many different sects who claim to worship goodness in any way.
Instead of traditional worship, why don't we get out and become friends of all our neighbors? That promotes the common good.

by: Tessa from: USA
June 16, 2012 10:36 AM
I'm from a country that was founded on the concepts of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but I certainly don't want that to sink so low or get so vulgar that we start having cartoons of our politicians or religious figures having sex.

That said, release the man and have him spend time with the Islamic professor who was concerned Aan needs someone to talk with.

by: Steve from: Birmingham UK
June 16, 2012 6:50 AM
How can being openly "non religious" (atheist) be considered inciting religious hatred? Then give him 2.5 years imprisonment for it.

Religion is disgusting.
In Response

by: luzmejor from: Roswell, NM
June 18, 2012 9:10 AM
What we are fighting here is not religion. It is prejudice masquerading as religion.
Every day I see Christianity distorted ninety degrees from its actual philosophy of love and care for neighbors. It is then distorted into an evil and self-congratulatory hate machine by people who deliberately create and market hateful prejudice instead.

Of course wars are fought for nothing but monetary gain and political power by those nations' attacking armies. We all know it.
Let's get over our dread and shout that truth from the rooftops!
In Response

by: Kevin from: USA
June 17, 2012 5:33 PM
Good reply!

by: ST Hatch from: Hong Kong SAR
June 16, 2012 5:53 AM
There is a petition to press for the release of Mr. Aan on the White House website, We the People. The URL for the petition is:

by: Austin from: Florida
June 15, 2012 1:48 PM
This is disgusting.

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