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Amnesty criticizes atheist imprisonment

Human rights group says Indonesia needs to do more to protect religious freedoms

  • ucanews.com reporters, Jakarta
  • Indonesia
  • June 15, 2012
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The imprisonment of a civil servant in West Sumatra province for professing atheism is a serious setback for freedom of expression and religion in Indonesia, Amnesty International (AI) said yesterday.

Alexander Aan, 32, was sentenced to 30 months in prison yesterday after a Mauro district court found him guilty of disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred after posting atheist statements and pictures on Facebook. He was fined 100 million rupiah (US$10,600) for violating the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law.

An AI statement said the sentence went against Indonesia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protecting freedom of thought, conscience, expression and religion.

Atheist views are protected under the UN Human Rights Committee, AI added, expressing concern that Indonesia was using the Criminal Code and a presidential order to punish those deemed to have defamed Islam in the predominantly Muslim country.

“The law continues to be used to imprison people for as long as five years, simply because they have peacefully exercised their right to freedom of expression or their right to freedom of religion,” the human rights group said, urging the government to repeal the legislation.

Aan was reportedly an active member of a Facebook group of Minang atheists, an ethnic people indigenous to the West Sumatran highlands.

In mid-January, Aan’s postings prompted an angry group of Muslims to issue physical threats which led the police to take him into custody, which they said was for his own safety.

Two days later, he was charged with disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility under the ITE Law and religious blasphemy in addition to calling for others to embrace atheism under Article 156a of the Criminal Code. His trial began on April 2.

Indonesia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion in its constitution but only recognizes six religions, namely Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Confucianism and Protestantism.
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