Earlier this year, an Indonesian civil servant named Alexander Aan posted messages to Facebook expressing his lack of belief in a God, as well as several cartoons about the Islamic prophet Mohammed. As a result, he was attacked at his workplace by an angry mob. When policed arrived, they arrested Aan and charged him with blasphemy, promoting atheism, and disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility.
Prosecutors eventually dropped the first two charges and sought to punish Aan on incitement. On June 14, a district court found Aan guilty on that charge, and sentenced him to two years and six months in prison. He was also fined 100 million rupiah (US $10,600). You can learn more about the story here.
Aan did nothing more than exercise the most basic of human rights — the liberty to believe and to express one’s beliefs — and for doing so he has lost his freedom. Aan is also in great personal danger; he has already been attacked, and many Indonesians are calling for his death. It is unconscionable that any person could be jailed or face threats of violence or death for simply stating his or her position regarding religion. 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 by punishing Aan.
The Center for Inquiry has worked tirelessly on Aan’s behalf, writing Indonesian officials, organizing protests in Washington, D.C., and New York City, and petitioning the White House. However, many people are asking how they can help from their corner of the world. Here are five suggestions.
1. Write the President of Indonesia and demand Aan’s immediate release from imprisonment, and improvements to the country’s protections for the rights to freedom of belief and expression.
The President of Indonesia can be contacted at:
Dr. H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
PO Box 9949
Jakarta, Indonesia 10000
2. Write the Indonesian Ambassador or Consulate General to your country/city to ask that he/she convey your concerns on Aan’s jailing to Indonesian government officials.
The Indonesian Ambassador to the United States can be contacted at:
H.E Dr. Dino Patti Djalal
2020 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Other embassies and consulate generals can be found here.
3. Help to raise both local and global consciousness on the issue.
Aan’s story has not yet garnered national or international media attention. We need to change that. How? A couple ideas: Post about Aan’s case on Twitter with the hashtag #FreeAan. Share news articles and other materials regarding Aan’s case on Facebook. Write posts on your blog. Pen a letter to the editor. Organize a protest outside the local Embassy or General Consulate office.
4. Donate to Aan’s appeal fund.
Aan’s defense team is currently appealing his sentence. However, prosecutors are appealing to the court for a longer sentence (Indonesian law allows up to five years imprisonment for Aan’s “offense”). Atheist Alliance International (AAI) is helping to collect funds for his appeal. You can donate here. Every cent goes toward a just cause: freeing Aan from jail.
5. Keep Aan’s morale up: show him he has supporters around the world.
AAI is also forwarding messages to Aan — and, as we recently learned, he is undoubtedly reading them. You can send him a note by emailing info [at] atheistalliance [dot] org with “Message for Alex” in the subject line.
This is by no means meant as an exhaustive list, and I urge readers post other suggestions in the comments. As always, feel free to contact me (mdedora [at] centerforinquiry [dot] net) with any questions or concerns.