Beware what you post on Facebook — if you're in Indonesia, it can land you in jail.
The Jakarta Globe reports that a 31-year-old man in West Sumatra has been arrested for denying the existence of God on Facebook. Atheism is illegal in Indonesia, and he faces a five-year prison term. But the story has sparked a nationwide debate about freedom of speech, and now human rights activists are fighting back.
The Indonesian state gives official recognition to six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Blasphemy against any of those carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail.
Alexander Aan was born a Muslim, but abandoned his faith in 2008. He works as a civil servant but, in his spare time, moderates an atheist forum, Ateis Minang (Minang Atheists), on Facebook. Trouble started when he posted the following statement on the popular social networking site: "God does not exist," before continuing to ask, "If God exists, why do bad things happen?" He does not believe in God, he went on to explain, because of the evil, suffering and disasters in the world.
This was enough to alert someone watching. Soon after Alexander posted the comment, a mob attacked him on his way to work, and police arrested him on charges of blasphemy against Islam.
Now, if he can't summon the faith to believe in one of the gods of the six religions officially recognised by the Indonesian state, he will pay for it with a long spell in prison.
However, the arrest has stirred a wider debate on freedom of speech, and now an online battle is brewing over the case. A group on the Ateis Minang fan page is demanding the release of Alexander; meanwhile, another group called “Gerakan 10,000 Urang Minang Memblokir Ateis Minang” (10,000 Minang People Resisting Ateis Minang) is mobilising to oppose the atheists.
Take action:Register your support for Alexander Aan, and the movement that is building around him.
Further reading: Indonesia, the most dangerous place to be an atheist.