Sunday, May 11, 2014

Indonesian Gets Tossed in Prison for 19 Months – For Declaring Atheism!

Incredibly, many parts of the world remain backwaters of advanced tolerance or true religious freedom. Such a place is Indonesia, which actually threw a young,  self-declared Atheist into prison for 19 months for coming out of the closet and openly declaring his atheism. (‘Embrace of Atheism Put An Indonesian in Prison’, NY Times, May 4, p. 11).

Indonesia, one of the most populous Muslim nations, professes religious tolerance but its state ideology, Pancassila “enshrines monotheism and makes blasphemy illegal”. Alas, this means if you declare yourself an atheist or non-believer and say “There is no God” (which is basically what Mr. Alexander Aan did in a number of Facebook comments) you leave yourself open to the charge of “blasphemy”.

Specifically, Mr. Aan – having become disenchanted with Islam  (his religion of birth) not only embraced atheism but joined an Indonesian atheist  group based in The Netherlands.  In 2011, he began posting commentaries outlining why he didn’t believe a God existed – a bad idea given that in 2008 Indonesia’s zealots passed a law restricting electronic communications on religion.

 Evidently, some of his Islamic peers in Indonesia had read some his  commentaries and pitched hissy fits, demanding Aan “stop saying there is no God” – because it made them depressed and they couldn’t sleep at night….boo hoo hoo.  When he didn’t a mob showed up at his place of work (at a gov’t planning office). After these whackos again demanded he retract his unbelief, Aan insisted he had a right express his beliefs- causing them all to go ape shit.

To make a long story short, the cops were called in to prevent violence and escorted Aan to the local police station. He was formally interrogated (Jeezus peace! What they thought he was a t’errist?) and then charged him with “disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred” and the next day he was charged with blasphemy.

 Are you kidding me? He was expressing his own sincere beliefs! It wasn’t his fault a bunch of morons couldn’t bring themselves to “change the channel” and just had to read what he put up. What, did someone hold a gun to their stupid heads and force them to read his posts? Sheesh!

 Anyway, he faced trial – was duly convicted in July ,2012 and the electronic information law, and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. He was released for good behavior after 19 months and again restated his position:

What I posted was for discussion, not to incite hatred.”

Good point! But see, zealots and their ilk will never see it that way.

All of which inspires even more respect for Mr. Harrison Ford – who appeared in the first installment of Showtime’s ‘Years of Living Dangerously” and faced down Indonesia’s Minister of the Environment – basically telling him he was a fraud in so many words for not adhering to that nation’s laws to enforce rain forest protection (from the ravages of the palm oil plantations.)

In a subsequent episode, the minister was shown pop-eyed and with veins bulging from his forehead as Ford basically “read him the riot act” on what he was allowing to be done with Indonesia’s forests. We almost thought he’d come under the hammer of these tin horn bureaucrats then recalled that the camera crew was likely his only protection. How would it look to see the once and future star of ‘Star Wars’ (as Han Solo) unceremoniously locked up for his “rudeness”?

But others weren’t so lucky. As the Times’ piece notes, a homemaker was jailed in 2009 after what she said was an incorrect hospital diagnosis in a private email that found its way online. Then in February a Twitter user was sentenced to a year’s probation  for “libelous tweets” against a former national lawmaker who’d been sent to prison for corruption. Hmmmm…..last I knew, stating the truth wasn’t libel. But I guess in Indonesia it is.

Further, Indonesia also appears to be going the extremist route. As the Times relates (ibid.):

More than half of Indonesia’s 491 provincial districts  have enacted various bylaws inspired by Islamic law or Shariah in recent years. Evidently so much power was given to local authorities that wherever Muslim organizations dominated there were violations against religious freedom."

 All of which plays into the  narratives recounted by the late Chris Hitchens and also Sam Harris (‘The End of Faith’) that Islam is the most reactionary religion when it comes to the treatment of non-believers.

 While fundies may be annoying and stupid (like Pastor Rick Joyner recently featured on 'Years of Living Dangerously'), the Islamic fundies want to carve out their own piece of flesh  - if they don’t agree with what you’re writing or saying. Another reason for practicing atheists to avoid Indonesia.

As for Mr. Aan, he’s still active on Facebook and Twitter but no longer writes on religion, or his criminal case.

A pity.

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