In a nutshell, Alexander Aan is an Indonesian civil servant who decided to take a principled stand for freedom of belief (or rather disbelief) in the world's largest Muslim country. Well, unfortunately, its not surprising to me what happened.
(Apparently there is an atheist group in Indonesia called Indonesia Atheists. Unbelievable. These guys are brave brave brave. They can be found here. )
Yes, I realise this has gotten very little press. Still, it would be nice to see the North American and European Muslim community taking a stand and showing the world that they do not believe in persecution based on religious belief. Come on? Am I missing something?
If you're Muslim, why not speak out against persecution based on religion or lack of. Why not start a group on Facebook or talk this up in your community? And thanks for being open-minded enough to read this.
North American Reaction
In a previous post about the Canadian Conservative government's plans for an Office of Religious Freedom, I closed it off with 'If this office does come into existence, will they defend American Atheists, the most hated minority there?' Well being an atheist in America is apparently 'peanuts' compared to Indonesia. This is a real testament to the difference between the two countries. Don't get me wrong, things are bad in the United States for sure, but they really don't hold a candle to the insanity in Indonesia.
So what is the opinion of John Baird at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, the very same who is calling so strongly for an Office of Religious Freedom? As of the writing of this post, no opinion at all (Departmental News Communiques here). I'll be sure to update this post if the good minister does utter something in defence. At the moment, we can only surmise that an atheist isn't worth defending, as there are plenty of other individual incarcerations being protested by the department.
(I wonder if this new department will be anything like the Indonesian West Sumatra Coordinating Agency to Supervise Religion and Beliefs (Bakorpakem) or their Ministry of Religious Affairs? I guess we'll see.)
The Canadian Secular Alliance has released an open letter to the minister here which was picked up internationally by Reuters here. Still not a peep from the department.
Canadian Blasphemy Law
By the way, blasphemy is still on the books as being illegal here in Canada: Wikipedia: Blasphemous libel.
Timeline of Events
Included are links to the newspaper articles. Reading the comments along the side is also "instructive".
January 18, 2012 - Alexander attacked at work for posting 'God does not exist' on his Facebook. He is then taken into protective police custody. (No word on whether the attackers were ever charged with anything. Some of them were apparently government officials.)
Gusrizal Gazahar, head of the West Sumatra chapter of the Council of Ulema (MUI), told local media that if he refused to repent, Alexander should lose his job.January 20, 2012 - Alexander is charged with blasphemy and is faced with five years in jail.
“I want him to be fired,” he said.
January 30, 2012 - Police in West Sumatra claim that Alexander was considering renouncing atheism. Well, I doubt they have been sitting about sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches down at the police station. There was likely at least a little coercion.
February 2, 2012 - Muslim extremists demand Alexander's beheading.
“These atheists should be beheaded, that’s what they deserve,” wrote a man who identified himself as Putra Tama, a Muslim from neighboring Jambi province.February 7, 2012 - Alexander's attackers are apparently left uncharged. Newspaper article about whether or not it's illegal to be atheist in Indonesia.
What You Can Do
Sign the petition here.
Support the legal fund here.
Contact John Baird:
2249 Carling Ave,
2012-04-01 : I found some video of Alexander on Al Jazeera here.