Yes, the news reports are accurate: Alexander Aan, a former Indonesian civil servant jailed for expressing his lack of belief in a God on Facebook, was released from prison on January 27, 2014, after serving 18 months of a 30-month sentence.
In January 2012, Aan was attacked at his workplace by an angry mob over posts he made on Facebook about his atheism, as well as cartoons he shared that were critical of Islamic prophet Muhammad. When police arrived, they arrested Aan and charged him with blasphemy, promoting atheism, lying on an official government document (Indonesia requires its citizens to claim one of six official religion; Aan marked Islam), and disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility. In June 2012, a district court found Aan guilty of disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility, and sentenced him to 30 months in prison. He was also fined 100 million rupiah (US $8,190).
My colleagues and I at the Center for Inquiry are ecstatic to learn that Aan has been released from prison. Aan did nothing more than exercise the most basic of human rights — the freedom to believe and to express one’s beliefs — and for that he lost 18 months of his life. That is unconscionable.
We wanted to publicly celebrate Aan’s release when we heard about it on January 27 but, because of the high sensitivity of his case and the precarious nature of the release, we proceeded cautiously. I have been in constant contact with Alex’s friends, as well as other activists working on his case, to make sure all the reported facts were correct, and that announcing his release would not put him in further risk. It was only after the Jakarta Post published their story that we felt comfortable finally announcing Aan’s release.
You see, Aan is unfortunately not yet completely free. Aan was released “on license,” which means he is required to report regularly and frequently to Indonesian authorities. Furthermore, Aan is vulnerable to vigilante retribution, which means he will be forced to keep a low profile for some time. As such, I urge everyone to not draw attention to Aan or his physical whereabouts.
The Center for Inquiry has worked tirelessly on Aan’s behalf — writing Indonesian officials, organizing protests in Washington, D.C. and New York City, petitioning the White House — and we will continue to track his case to ensure he remains safe and eventually gains complete freedom. We also remain deeply concerned over Indonesia’s penal code, which allows the government to persecute atheists and religious dissidents. Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee every person the rights to freedom of belief and expression. As a signatory to this treaty, Indonesia is a clearly violating its obligations, and CFI will continue to push for change.
For those interested in supporting Aan, I suggest considering making a donation to the Atheist Alliance International’s scholarship fund. And for those interested in learning more about Aan’s case, as well as similarly disturbing cases, I urge you to check out CFI’s Campaign for Free Expression, which was launched in part to highlight Aan’s plight.