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Indonesian Atheist Alexander Aan Appeals Verdict In Blasphemy Case

Alexander Aan, an Indonesian atheist who has endured a long court trial over his alleged Islamic dissidence, is currently appealing his prison sentence of two years and six months to the country's Supreme Court, arguing that the court has been unable to prove he purposefully spread anti-Islamic messages in order to incite societal dissidence.

"The ones who spread and cause hatred are the two witnesses, who told about Alexander's postings [declaring himself an atheist] on Facebook," Saputra Roni, Aan's lawyer and deputy director of the Padang Legal Aid Foundation, told The Jakarta Post.

Aan, 31, who was born Muslim but became an atheist at a young age, was arrested in January 2012 for posting on an atheist group's Facebook page a message that read: "God doesn't exist."

Aan's posts were then reported to authorities for blasphemy, and Aan suffered a vicious beating by an angry, rioting mob while attempting to commute to work shortly after the post went up.

He was then charged with disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility, religious blasphemy, and calling for others to embrace atheism, according to Sumatra police records.

Aan's lawyer, Roni, now argues that his sentence of two years and six months should be reduced because the country's higher court disregarded the fact that the Negeri Muaro District Court, located in West Sumatra, failed to prove that Aan purposefully spread the atheist information with the hopes of starting a riot.

Aan's case has received attention from international human rights organizations, which argue that even though Aan has no belief in religion, he should still be protected under religious freedom laws.

"Freedom of expression and conscience is a basic human right. Even if people do not personally agree with the statement that 'God Does Not Exist' they should support Alex's right, indeed anyone's right, to make that statement," Carlos Diaz, president of Atheist Alliance International organization, which has been heavily involved in Aan's case, previously told The Christian Post.

"There is not much value in supporting freedom of expression if you only support people's right to express views you agree with," Diaz added.

Although the Office of Public Policy at the Center for Inquiry attempted to have a petition signed in order to warrant an official response from the U.S. government, the petition fell short of its required signatures.

Previous human rights and religious freedom cases, such as that of Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, have received acknowledgment from the U.S. Secretary of State and White House, greatly helping their cause.

Before his arrest, Aan was a South Sumatra civil servant and founder of the "Minang Atheists" group.

Aan is currently serving his sentence at Muaro Sijunjung Penitentiary while waiting for his verdict to be approved for appellation.

Aan's lawyer told The Jakarta Post that the human rights prisoner is being restricted from reading in prison for fear that "[Aan] would remain an atheist."

Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic country, officially recognizes six religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism and Protestantism, although it has often been criticized for practicing intolerance against non-Islamic inhabitants.

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