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.
    x
    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.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    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:

    http://wh.gov/lqxT

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

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.