An Indonesian atheist who posted the message "God doesn't exist" on Facebook and started an atheist page now faces up to 11 years imprisonment for breaching the most populous Muslim nation's blasphemy laws.
Alex Aan, a 31-year-old civil servant, was beaten up by a mob of people in his hometown in Pulau Punjung after he posted the comment, which included an image of the prophet Muhammad, and was then arrested and charged for blasphemy. Although Indonesia has freedom of religion laws, those only apply to people of six faiths: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.
The atheist is officially being charged with "insulting a major religion," which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence, but he might also get an additional six years for using the Internet to spread such "blasphemous" messages. It is believed that Aan is the first Indonesian to be tried under the state's philosophy, which requires belief in one God. The government does not allow for not believing in God, as noted in the U.S. Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report.
"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.
Some people on the atheist Facebook page that he started went as far as to call for his beheading.
"These atheists should be beheaded, that's what they deserve," wrote Putra Tama, a Muslim from neighboring Jambi province.
Currently, Aan is being held in jail and awaiting an imminent verdict that will decide his fate.
"The truth is way too dangerous," Aan expressed in an interview with the Guardian. "I'm really worried about my future. And I'm only just now starting to think about how I'm going to deal with it."
Aan also revealed he was beaten by a group of inmates in the previous jail where he was kept, after the prisoners found out that he had committed blasphemy against Islam.
"What Alex has 'done' is exercise freedom of expression," said Taufik Fajrin, one of the five lawyers who will be representing his case. "We'll try our best to get him freed but just hope he'll get a minimum sentence. Promoting human rights here is hard because you face fanatics and hardline culturalists. Even we, as his lawyers, are worried that hardliners will come to our office or homes and throw stones at us. It's a challenge."
By the lawyers' estimates, there might be up to 2,000 atheists in Indonesia – in a country of 240 million citizens where the vast majority are Muslims.