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Indonesian Atheist Alexander Aan Jailed for Facebook Posts

06/18/2012

On Thursday, June 13, 2012, 32-year-old Indonesian civil servant Alexander Aan was convicted of disseminating information aimed at inflicting religious hatred under Article 28(2) of Indonesia’s Electronic Information and Transaction (IET) Law.  He was then sentenced to 30 months prison and fined Rp 100 million or the equivalent of $10,600.  Alexander, or Alex, was initially arrested after a mob assaulted him for openly declaring his atheism online and for posting articles and panels of a comic strip critical of the Prophet Mohammad.  After explaining to the police why he had been attacked, Alex was charged under Article 156a(a) of the Indonesian Penal Code (KUHP) with blasphemy and under Article 156a(a) of the KUHP with persuading others to embrace atheism,  in addition to disseminating information aimed at inflicting religious hatred.  The court dismissed the first two charges.  Both the prosecution and the defense have filed appeals.  To date, not one of Alex’s assailants has been arrested or charged with any crimes in connection with the assault.

Alex was arrested in his hometown of Pulau Punjung in West Sumutra in January after an angry mob, reacting to two sets of Facebook postings, stormed into his office and beat him.  He had declared himself an atheist on his personal Facebook page and had started a Facebook group for atheists called Ateis Minang  or Minag Atheists.  On the Facebook page for atheists, Alex posted both an essay entitled “the Prophet Muhammad was attracted to his own daughter-in-law,” and, a series of cartoon panels from the Biography of the Prophet Muhammad Illustrated – Volume 1 by Abdullah Ibn Sa’d Ibn Abi Sarh.  That name, it should be noted, is a pen name.  Using his or her real name would place the author in great danger.  On his own page, Alex wrote “God doesn’t exist.” 

Although the essay and cartoons are offensive to some Muslims, they are arguably based on the Quran and the Hadith, a collection of Mohammed’s sayings and actions written by Mohammed (or Muhammad) and those who knew him, including one Abdullah Ibn Sa’d Ibn Abi Sarh.  Panels from the controversial biography can be seen by clicking on the Biography of the Prophet Muhammad Illustrated.  Caution: Some of the panels depict violence and sexual content.  One series of panels depicts the story of the Prophet having an affair with the maid of one of his wives.  That story, Muhammad and Hafsa, was singled out by the presiding judge at Alex’s sentencing.

The conviction of Alex, and not of his attackers, follows a disturbing trend in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.  The increasing numbers of attacks against Christians, atheists, and, members of the Islamic minority Ahmadis, have been met with a decreasing amount of protection from Indonesian authorities.  In February of last year, extremists brutally attacked members of the Ahmadiyah sect.  Three Ahmadis were killed.  The authorities’ response was to sentence to six months a brave member of the minority sect who tried to defend others from the attack.  The mob almost hacked his arm off.  More recently extremists from the Islamic Defenders Front (IDF) have, through violent threats, forced the cancellation of a sold-out Lady Gaga concert and have “persuaded” a book publisher to conduct a book burning ceremony of one of its own titles that the IDF found objectionable.  Members of this group and other extremist groups in Indonesia are demanding that Aan be beheaded.

To learn more about this unfortunate development, click on Facebook Atheist Jailed in Indonesia by Kate Lamb of Voice of America News, Indonesian Jailed Over Facebook Comment by Ben Bland of the Financial Times, Another Religious Travesty in Indonesia by an unnamed reporter for the Asia Sentinel, and, Calls to Behead Indonesian Atheist Alexander Aan by Presi Mandari for the Jakarta Globe.

The Cartoonists Rights Network International condemns the conviction and sentencing of Alexander Aan.  We remind the Indonesian authorities that Indonesia is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil Rights and Political Rights which obligates the authorities to protect an individual’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 18, and, to protect an individual’s right to freedom of opinion and expression under Article 19.  While Alex’s posts may have been deeply offensive to some religious individuals, freedom of religion does not include a right to have one’s sensibilities protected.  Alex did not advocate discrimination, violence or hatred towards Muslims.  Consequently, we call on the judicial authorities to revoke this unwarranted sentence against an individual merely expressing his opinions.  Expressing one’s core beliefs as to whether or not there is a higher power should not be a crime.

We ask you, the reader of this article, to add your voice of concern by sending or emailing a letter of protest to the Indonesian authorities.  Below is a draft letter that you can copy and direct to the attention of the President of Indonesia, the Indonesian Minister of Justice and Human Rights, the Indonesian Constitutional Court and the Ministry of Tourism.  Their names and addresses can be found at the conclusion of this article.  Please also click on EmbassyPages.com to find the name and address of the Indonesian ambassador in your country.

Dear _____________________________________ ,

I am writing to voice my shock and disapproval at the lack of justice that professed atheist Alexander Aan has received in and out of the judicial system of Indonesia.  For questioning the existence of God, Alexander Aan, a civil  servant from West Sumatra, was physically assaulted, and then charged with disseminating information aimed at inflicting religious hatred under Article 28(2) of Indonesia’s Electronic Information and Transaction (IET) Law, blasphemy under Article 156a(a) of the Indonesian Penal Code (KUHP), and, persuading others to embrace atheism under Article 156a(a) of the KUHP.  Though the court dismissed the last two charges, on July 13, 2012, Aan was convicted of disseminating information aimed at inflicting religious hatred.  He was then sentenced to 30 months prison and fined Rp 100 million.  To date, not one of Aan’s assailants has been arrested or charged with any crimes in connection with the assault.

Please consider the fact that Indonesia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which obligates the authorities to protect an individual’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 18, and, to protect an individual’s right to freedom of opinion and expression under Article 19 of the ICCPR.  Please also consider the words of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in September of 2009 at Harvard University.  He said Indonesia could “project the virtue of moderate Islam throughout the Muslim world.  We can be a bastion of freedom, tolerance and harmony.  We can be a powerful example that Islam, democracy and modernity can go hand in hand.”

Indonesia cannot be a bastion of freedom, tolerance and harmony if expressing one’s beliefs about the existence or nonexistence of a higher power is a crime.  Democracy and modernity will likewise elude Indonesia if the Indonesian authorities fail to protect the human rights of atheists and religious minorities.

I therefore urge you to do everything in your power to (1) reverse this conviction, (2) adequately compensate Alexander Aan, (3) prosecute Aan's assailants, and (4) prevent any additional denials of basic human rights by either violent mobs or the authorities.         

Sincerely,

___________________________________________
 

Please direct your corrspondences to:

 

The President of Indonesia

Dr. H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Jl. Alternatif Cibubur Puri Cikeas Indah No. 2

Desa Negrag Kec. Gunung PutriKab. Bogor --16967

Indonesia

Email: presiden@presidenri.go.id

The Minister of Justice and Human Rights

H. Patrialis Akbar, SH.

Gd. Nusantara I Lt. 20 R. 2031

Jl. Gatot Subroto Gd. DRP/MPR RI Jakarta

Indonesia

The Constitutional Court

Mahkamah Konstitusi RI

Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat No. 6

Jakarta 10110

Indonesia

The Ministry of Tourism

To contact, click on Indonesian Ministry of Tourism Contact Form