- (Photo: Reuters / Thierry Roge)
A human rights group has called on Indonesia to repeal discriminatory laws and drop its case against a civil servant charged for declaring himself an atheist on Facebook.
Alexander Aan, 31, was indicted by a local court and faces six years in prison for writing "God doesn't exist" on his account, and starting a Facebook group for atheists, where he posted a cartoon of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
After starting the atheist Facebook page, Aan was beaten by a mob of people in his hometown in Pulau Punjung. He was then arrested by police who read his Facebook page, and charged for blasphemy.
The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission urged Indonesia to drop the court case against Aan and to "repeal any laws which are contradictory with Indonesia's international obligations on freedom of expression and freedom of religion."
"What Alexander has done does not pose a threat to public order," the Asian Human Rights Commission said in a statement received by Agence France-Presse. "It is also essential to emphasize that freedom of religion does not simply protect theistic beliefs but also non-theistic and atheistic beliefs."
Indonesia, however, has faced criticism over its defense of freedom of religion laws, with many critics saying the laws are not doing enough to punish Muslim offenders who attack non-believers, Christians, or those of other faiths.
Some Muslim extremists have called for Aan to be beheaded for his atheistic beliefs, according to The Jakarta Globe, but others have gone on the atheist's Facebook page to express support for him.
"Dear Alex, stick to your beliefs. This country has no right to restrict your faith," wrote Fahd Singa Diwirja. "You're facing narrow-minded people, but this is the true Indonesia, a fertile ground for the spread of fundamentalism," he added.
There were also many hostile remarks posted on Aan's account.
"These atheists should be beheaded, that's what they deserve," wrote Putra Tama, a Muslim from neighboring Jambi province.
"If you think your arguments are true, why don't you just have a face-to-face meeting with us, people who still believe in God? You're just a group of cowards," added another user.
Some reports suggest that even if Aan repents for the blasphemous act of posting an image of the prophet Muhammad, it will not be enough to help him escape prison time.
"He expressed his intention to convert to Islam but he has not performed an Islamic declaration of faith. Even if he does so, he still can't escape from justice due to his blasphemous act," said Jakarta police chief Chairul Aziz.