Alexander Aan

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Alexander Aan
Born Alexander Aan
c. 1982 (age 31–32)
Occupation Civil Servant
Years active Until January 2012
Known for 2012 arrest for comments on religion

Alexander Aan (born c. 1982[1]) is an Indonesian atheist and ex-Muslim of Minang descent.[2][3] He was imprisoned in 2012 for posting comments and images to Facebook that were judged to be "disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility" by the Muaro Sijunjung district court.[4][5][1][6] The sentence sparked national debate[2] and caused Amnesty International to designate him a prisoner of conscience.[1]

Arrest and trial[edit]

Prior to his arrest, Alexander was a civil servant in the Pulau Punjung subdistrict of West Sumatra province.[1] Though he had been raised as a Muslim, Alexander ceased believing by age 11,[2] and stopped participating in religious rituals in 2008. In January 2012, he posted to an atheist Facebook group he had founded, stating that God did not exist. His post asked, "If God exists, why do bad things happen? ... There should only be good things if God is merciful."[7] He declared heaven, hell, angels, and devils to be "myths".[3] He also posted an article describing Mohammad as "attracted to his daughter-in-law" and comic strips depicting him and a servant having sex.[8]

The posts were seen by the Indonesian Council of Ulema, who reported him to the police for blasphemy.[7][a] On 18 January, an angry mob attacked Alexander on his way to work, causing police to take him into protective custody.[1][10] Two days later, he was charged with "disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility", "religious blasphemy", and "calling for others to embrace atheism".[1] The district police chief also stated that Alexander had lied on his application for his government job, claiming to be Muslim.[11] Initially imprisoned in Padang, Alexander was "badly beaten" by other inmates who learned that he had been jailed for blasphemy. Alexander was then transferred to another prison. Alexander later issued a public apology for his Facebook posts and converted to Islam.[2]

On 14 June, the Muaro Sijunjung district court found Alexander guilty of "disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility" and sentenced him to two and a half years' imprisonment and a fine of 100 million rupiah (US$10,600).[1][12] The charges of religious blasphemy and "calling for others to embrace atheism" were dropped. During the sentencing, the presiding judge described Alexander's actions as having "caused anxiety to the community and tarnished Islam".[8] Alexander expressed regret for his actions in a written statement, adding that he "prayed for God's mercy".[3]

On 31 January 2014, Aan was released from prison.[13]

Reactions[edit]

Alexander's arrest caused "outrage" among both domestic and international religious freedom activists, and several petitions were circulated calling for his release.[8] Setara Institute director Hendardi described the requested sentence as "excessive", a demonstration of "the arbitrariness of the law and law enforcement officials", and a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a signatory.[14] Amnesty International responded by designating Alexander a prisoner of conscience, describing the sentence as "a serious setback for freedom of expression in Indonesia". The organization called for Alexander's immediate release.[1] Human Rights Watch stated that Alexander's sentence suggested "a threat to Indonesia's religious minorities" in light of recent attacks by extremists.[15] The Asian Human Rights Commission also called for Alexander's release, stating that his actions did not "pose a threat to public order" and were covered by freedom of religion.[16]

Atheist Alliance International began a campaign on Alexander's behalf, stating that his case "highlights the fundamental principles of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience and the discrimination faced by atheists, particularly in Islamic countries."[16] An opinion column in The Jakarta Globe described the charges as "a blight on Indonesia’s democratic credentials" and a threat to Indonesia's attractiveness to foreign investors.[17]

The Center for Inquiry, first supporting the petition of the Asian Human Rights Commission,[18] organized a protest outside the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, DC on 18 June 2012, calling for Indonesian authorities to release and exonerate Aan.[19] A second CFI-organized protest outside the Indonesian Consulate in New York City took place on July 6th.[20] CFI also sent a letter demanding for Aan's release to the Indonesia Embassy through its Office of Public Policy.[21]

The Islamic Society Forum, a coalition of Islamist groups, stated that the potential five-year sentence was not enough, and that Alexander should be executed. The organization's secretary-general stated, "What he has done cannot be tolerated... it is important to prevent this group from spreading atheism in this country."[22] The atheist Facebook group which he founded saw a surge in membership, up to 2,000. However, most of these were against atheists and Aan; postings included calls for atheists to be beheaded and calling them cowards.[9]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Indonesia supports the freedom of religion of members of only six religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Members of religious minorities often face persecution.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Indonesia: Atheist imprisonment a setback for freedom of expression". Amnesty International. 14 June 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d Kate Hodal (3 May 2012). "Indonesia's atheists face battle for religious freedom". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c Syofiardi Bachyul Jb (14 June 2012). "'Minang atheist' sentenced to 2.5 years in prison". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  4. ^ William Pesek (20 June 2012). "From Lady Gaga to Atheist Alexander to DBS, Indonesia Is Sending Investors Bad Signals". Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  5. ^ "Amnesty Calls for Release of Jailed Indonesian Atheist". Jakarta Globe. 14 June 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Sara Malm (14 June 2012). "Indonesian man jailed for two-and-a-half years for writing 'God doesn’t exist' on his Facebook page". Daily Mail. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Ian McKinnon (20 January 2012). "Atheist Indonesian in protective custody after being beaten by mob". The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c "Indonesian jailed for Prophet Mohammed cartoons". The Straits Times. Agence France-Presse. 14 June 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  9. ^ a b Jimmy Hitipeuw (2 February 2012). "Indonesian Atheist's Arrest Sparks Tension Online". Kompas. Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  10. ^ "Row over Indonesia atheist Facebook post". BBC News. 20 January 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  11. ^ "Indonesian charged with blasphemy for atheist post". The Houston Chronicle. Associated Press. 21 January 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  12. ^ Sara Malm (14 June 2012). "Indonesian man jailed for two-and-a-half years for writing 'God doesn’t exist' on his Facebook page". Daily Mail. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  13. ^ "Atheist Alexander Aan gets of prison". thejakartapost. 31 January 2014. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  14. ^ Febriamy Hutapea (13 June 2012). "Activists Call for Acquittal of Embattled Atheist Alexander". Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  15. ^ Meghan Neal (15 June 2012). "Man jailed in Indonesia for atheist Facebook posts". Daily News. New York. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  16. ^ a b Michael Gryboski (20 June 2012). "Atheist Group Launches Efforts to Help Jailed Facebook User in Indonesia". The Christian Post. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  17. ^ William Pesek (20 June 2012). "From Lady Gaga to Atheist Alexander to DBS, Indonesia Is Sending Investors Bad Signals". Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  18. ^ "URGENT: Add Your Voice to Support Jailed Atheist in Indonesia". Center for Inquiry. 25 April 2012. 
  19. ^ "Protest in Support of Jailed Indonesian Atheist Alexander Aan". Center for Inquiry. 2012. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  20. ^ "IMPORTANT: Protest in Support of Jailed Indonesian Atheist Alexander Aan". Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  21. ^ "Center for Inquiry Calls for Alexander Aan’s Freedom in Letter to Indonesian Ambassador". Center for Inquiry. 21 June 2012. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  22. ^ "Indonesian atheist’s arrest sparks tension online". Al Arabiya. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2012.