An Indonesian man who declared himself to be an atheist on Facebook and posted pictures satirizing Muhammad has been jailed for two and a half years.
A judge found Alexander Aan, 30, of West Sumatra guilty of inciting religious hatred and tarnishing Islam. The 30-year-old was also fined the equivalent of $10,600.
Ana was accused of writing ‘God doesn’t exist,’ and posting links to explicit cartons [sic] showing the Prophet Mohammed having sex with a maid, and being sexually attracted to his daughter-in-law.
Aan also reportedly started the Facebook group “Ateis Minang,” Minang Atheist.
Aan was arrested in January after an angry mob reacting to the Facebook posts stormed his office, where he works as a civil servant, and beat him. Police intervened and took Aan to the police station for his safety, the Jakarta Globe reported.
Specifically, Aan was charged with “disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility” as well as religious blasphemy, transgressing Article 156a (a) of the Indonesian Penal Code (KUHP) on dissemination of anti-religious views and Article 156a (b) of the KUHP on religious blasphemy. He was also found to be in breach of Article 28 of the law on Information and Electronic Transactions, because he posted his views online. The judge also specifically mentioned that Aan had declared himself to be an atheist, reportedly commenting that this was not acceptable behavior for a civil servant. The judge is even reported to have gone so far as to say that every citizen is obliged by the Constitution to have a religion.
Reports that Aan has since issued an apology renouncing what he did and asking for God’s forgiveness remain difficult to substantiate, and some have speculated that any apology may be propaganda from authorities within the country hoping to make an example of Aan’s case. Indeed, a copy of Aan’s words seems to suggest only that he has shown regret that his comments have landed him in this situation, with him reportedly saying, “I accept the judgment and will abide by it. For me, faith is a personal matter and I have expressed my regret and apology to every party, including my family.”
Amnesty International has repeatedly condemned provisions in Indonesia’s criminal code that run contrary to General Comment No. 22 on the freedom of religion, which includes the freedom to hold an atheistic view, and Article 19 of the ICCP which guarantees a right to express such views. On Friday, Amnesty International released a statement condemning Aan’s sentence and calling for his immediate release. Human Rights Watch has similarly expressed concerns over what Aan’s sentence may signal in terms of free speech and human rights.
The AHRC is concerned with the overly vague criminal provisions under the ITE Law as well as the broad interpretation of the court. Whereas recognizing that freedom of expression might be limited when the exercise of it amounts to dissemination of religious hatred or hostility, the AHRC is of the view that Alexander Aan’s posts on Facebook did not amount to any of those. His posts are manifestation of his belief that his arrest, detention and sentence violate his rights to freedoms of expression and religion as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the 1945 Constitution.
The AHRC is urging the Indonesian government to take the following measures:
– Revoke Article 156a of the KUHP and Law No. 1/PNPS/1965 which criminalise religious blasphemy and the dissemination of atheism;
– Revise or interpret Article 28 paragraph (2) of the ITE Law in accordance with its obligations concerning freedom of expression;
– Halt all prosecutions against individuals and members of religious minority groups under such provisions.
Aan’s lawyers are appealing to the West Sumatra High Court. Meanwhile, prosecutors have also filed an appeal saying that Aan’s sentence was too lenient and that they want a review of the case.
Indonesia, while officially a secular nation, has the highest Muslim population in the world, with approximately 202.9 million identifying as followers of Islam.