How tolerant Indonesia is prosecuting an atheist

Davey Meelker

This April a trial started against the civil servant Alexander Aan who was arrested and accused of atheism and blasphemy. He is risking five to six years of imprisonment. Yes, only for being an atheist and making blasphemous remarks. How can this happen in a country where most people are moderately religious?

It may sound strange, but this trial is the consequence of Indonesia’s fight against communism. Not that Aan is regarded a communist, but his arrest is based on a law with the intent to fight communism. Communists generally had no religion. To be able to prosecute communists, Soekarno introduced the blasphemy law in 1965, just before he resigned. Now this law is used for completely other purposes.

According Indonesian law its citizens have to adhere to one of the following six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism (Judaism is not included!). Their religion most even be stated on their ID-card. When Aan wrote on Facebook that he did not believe in angels, devils, heaven and hell, as well as other myths, he was technically breaking the law.

Now the trial is finally started, the intentions of the persecution are clear: they want to lock Aan up for many years. I am astonished by the enforcement of this blasphemy law. Indonesians are one of friendliest, maybe even the friendliest, people I ever encountered. I experienced much more tolerance towards people from other countries with other beliefs in Indonesia, than I do in Europe. The current trial does not fit this picture of Indonesia at all.

The blasphemy law from 1965 was intended to abolish communism, not ordinary civil servants who happens to be open about not believing in God. Now the Cold War is long over, it should be time for Indonesia to abolish its blasphemy law and officially accept other beliefs and freethinkers. This fits the extraordinary openness, friendliness and tolerance of Indonesia as I know it.

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