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INDONESIA: An Atheist on Trial for Religious Defamation
Letter by William Gomes Salem-News.com
Salem-News Human Rights Ambassador William Gomes contacts UN Special Rapporteur over Indonesia's criminality of religious freedom.
Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt UN Special Rapporteur
(HONG KONG) - It's no secret that police, prosecutors and parole officers use Facebook as a resource to learn what possible criminal connections a suspect or parolee may have.
This takes place everywhere, however Indonesia's police and courts are now using the social network to prowl for religious 'violations' which in turn lead to legal persecution and in this case, prosecution.
An atheist civil servant named Alexander Aan, in Dharmasraya, Padang, West Sumatra. Alex was arrested, charged and put on trial for posting a status on Facebook questioning the existence of God.
His other supposed crime, is allegedly having disseminated religious hatred on the internet by posting a note and comic on Facebook entitled, ‘The Prophet Muhammad was attracted to his own daughter-in-law’ and ‘The Prophet Muhammad had been sleeping with his wife’s maid.’
While his posts likely offend Muslims, they do not contain statements encouraging discrimination, violence or hostility to the Muslims. Moreover, under human rights principles, there is no such thing as ‘the right not to be offended’ and freedom of religion does not include the right to protection of religious feelings.
April 18, 2012
Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations at Geneva
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
Fax: +42 22 917 9006
Re: INDONESIA: An atheist on trial for religious defamation in Padang, West Sumatra
Dear Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt,
I am William Nicholas Gomes, Salem-News Human Rights Ambassador.
Name of victim: Alexander Aan
Names of alleged perpetrators: Police officers of Pulau Punjung Sub-District Police Station, prosecutors of Sijunjung District Prosecutors Office, potentially the panel of judges at the Muaro Sijunjung District Court who examines Alex’s case.
Date of incident: 18 January 2012 – present (ongoing)
Place of incident: Dharmasraya, Padang, West Sumatra
I am writing to voice my concern regarding the case of Alexander Aan, an atheist civil servant in Dharmasraya, Padang, West Sumatra. Alex was arrested, charged and tried for posting a status on Facebook questioning the existence of God. He is also alleged to have disseminated religious hatred on the internet by posting a note and comic on Facebook entitled ‘The Prophet Muhammad was attracted to his own daughter-in-law’ and ‘The Prophet Muhammad had been sleeping with his wife’s maid.’
According to the prosecutor’s Letter of Indictment, Alex’s actions have insulted Islam as well as caused outcry in the community. His posts are also considered as persuading others to embrace atheism, which is a crime under article 156a (b) of the Indonesian Penal Code (KUHP). In addition to this, Alex is also charged with article 28 (2) of the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law for disseminating religious hatred on the internet and article 156a (a) of the KUHP on religious defamation.
I seriously regret that the KUHP criminalises activities pertaining to persuading other people to embrace atheism. Article 156a (b) of KUHP is not only open to arbitrary interpretation, but it is also contradictory with the right to freedom of religion. I would like to remind you that Indonesia is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees freedom of religion. According to the UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 22, freedom of religion also includes the freedom to have and adopt atheistic belief. Alex’s Facebook status questioning the existence of god is merely an expression of this belief, which should not be punished.
I am of the view that Alex’s posts on Facebook should be seen as an exercise of his freedom of expression. While I am aware that such freedom might be subjected to restrictions, I would like to emphasise that these restrictions only apply when it is necessary to respect the rights or reputations of others and for the protection of national security, public order, health, or morals. In this case, Alex’s action do not pose a threat to any of those; neither do they amounts to an advocacy of religious hatred, incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. His posts might have insulted Muslims and Islam yet they do not contain any statements which encourage other people to discriminate, commit violence or be hostile to the Muslims. Moreover, under human rights principles, there is no such thing as ‘the right not to be offended’ and the freedom of religion does not include the right to protection of religious feelings.
I would like to draw to your attention the Joint Declaration on Defamation of Religion which was issued in 2008 by the representatives of various human rights bodies who deal with the issue of freedom of expression (UN, OSCE, OAS and ACHPR). According to this declaration, “the concept of ‘defamation of religions’ does not accord with international standards regarding defamation, which refer to the protection of reputation of individuals, while religions, like all beliefs, cannot be said to have a reputation of their own”. The Declaration also establishes that “restrictions on freedom of expression should be limited in scope to the prediction of overriding individual rights and social interests, and should never be used to protect particular institutions, or abstract notions, concepts or beliefs, including religious ones”.
Based on all of these, I urge you to stop all legal proceedings against Alexander Aan as well as to release and provide him with adequate compensation. I strongly recommend you to withdraw any laws and provisions which are not in accordance with freedom of expression: the ITE Law as well as article 156a (a) and (b) of the KUHP. Only by so doing can the Indonesian government comply with its international obligations concerning the right to freedom of expression.
I look forward to seeing your swift action on this matter.
William Nicholas Gomes
Salem-News, Human Rights Ambassador
______________________________Salem-News.com Human Rights Ambassador William Nicholas Gomes is a Bangladeshi journalist, human rights activist and author was born on 25 December, 1985 in Dhaka. As an investigative journalist he wrote widely for leading European and Asian media outlets.
He is also active in advocating for free and independent media and journalists’ rights, and is part of the free media movement, Global Independent Media Center – an activist media network for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate telling of the truth. He worked for Italian news agency Asianews.it from year 2009 to 2011, on that time he was accredited as a free lance journalist by the press information department of Bangladesh. During this time he has reported a notable numbers of reports for the news agency which were translated into Chinese and Italian and quoted by notable number of new outlets all over the world.He, ideologically, identifies himself deeply attached with anarchism. His political views are often characterized as “leftist” or “left-wing,” and he has described himself as an individualist anarchist.
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