God doesn't exist: Indonesian atheist faces 11 yrs in jail | world | Hindustan Times
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God doesn't exist: Indonesian atheist faces 11 yrs in jail

When Alex Aan picked up a copy of Karen Armstrong's Holy War from his local library in west Sumatra in 2005, he had little inkling of his own religious battle to come. But after posting "God doesn't exist" on Facebook, the soft-spoken civil servant, 30, faces up to 11 years in jail for what is considered blasphemy in Indonesia.

world Updated: May 08, 2012 23:55 IST

When Alex Aan picked up a copy of Karen Armstrong's Holy War from his local library in west Sumatra in 2005, he had little inkling of his own religious battle to come. But after posting "God doesn't exist" on Facebook, the soft-spoken civil servant, 30, faces up to 11 years in jail for what is considered blasphemy in Indonesia.

His case has stoked a debate in the world's most populous Muslim nation, whose 240 million citizens are technically guaranteed freedom of religion but protected by law only if they believe in one of six credos: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism. Those who question any of those face five years in prison for "insulting a major religion", plus an additional six years if they use the internet to spread such "blasphemy" to others.

Activists say Aan's is the first case in which an atheist is being tried in relation to the first pillar of Indonesia's state philosophy - pancasila, which requires belief in one god. From the medium-security rural prison where he has been held for the past two months, Aan has little hope for the future. He has been beaten by angry mobs, rejected by his community and endured public calls for his beheading. For now he is lying low in his cramped cell, awaiting an imminent verdict.

To see their client for 15 minutes, Aan's lawyers must drive for four hours along a treacherous mountain road that bisects the dwindling Sumatran rainforest and crisscrosses valleys until it ends in a cul-de-sac at the prison's gates.

According to Andreas Harsono, a local human rights activist, Aan's case is just one of a growing number of examples of religious intolerance across Indonesia.

Activists argue that the country is increasingly influenced politically and financially by conservative Wahhabi clerics from the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, who help to incite intolerance in Indonesia.