Atheists rally for persecuted unbeliever in Indonesia

The atheist community has embraced the cause of an Indonesian man, Alexander Aan, who was beaten and jailed after denying God’s existence on Facebook and posting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Center for Inquiry, a Washington-based humanist organization, launched a petition Tuesday (July 17) on behalf of Alexander Aan, a 30-year-old Indonesian civil servant currently serving a 30-month jail sentence for “deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity,” according to the judge who sentenced him.

The petition asks the Obama administration to pressure the Indonesian government for Aan’s release and for better protection of religious freedom in that country, the most populous Muslim nation in the world.

“We are hoping that this petition will promote Aan’s cause and put it in the public consciousness so we can build a better coalition to get him out of jail,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s director of public policy. “It should matter to all human beings any time another human being is being denied basic human rights.”

Aan was arrested in January after posting “God doesn’t exist” and cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to the page of a Facebook group he started dedicated to atheism. The group had 1,200 members.

A crowd came to his house and beat him, according to news reports. Aan was charged with blasphemy and persuading others to embrace atheism, both crimes in Indonesia. In June, he was sentenced to jail and a fine of 100 million rupiah (about $10,600).

Earlier this month, Aan released a letter from his jail cell that thanked his backers for their “support and love.” He added, “Without this I feel alone.”

CFI posted the petition via We The People, the Obama administration’s website where anyone can bring a cause to the White House’s attention. They have 30 days to garner 25,000 signatures before the Obama officials will consider it.

Atheist Alliance International has also lobbied for Aan, pressuring the Indonesian government to release him and starting a legal defense fund in his name.

CFI has held two rallies on behalf of Aan, one outside the Indonesian embassy in Washington and another outside the Indonesian consulate to the United Nations in New York. There are also plans for a stand-alone website and a sign-on letter on Aan’s behalf.

“It depends on what happens with this petition,” De Dora said.