02/02/2012, 00.00
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Atheist on Facebook, Indonesian risks imprisonment and unleashes an Islamist revolt

by Mathias Hariyadi
Aan Alexander, 30, government employee, said he does not believe in God on the popular social networks. Discovered by his colleagues, he has sparked protests by fundamentalists and risks a sentence of five years. Atheism, in the archipelago, is equated with communism and thus outlawed. "Repentant" he will return to Islam.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesia is not a country for "atheists", especially if you declare in public - in this case with a post on Facebook – that you do not believe in God. Aan Alexander, 30, since jailed, has triggered a wave of protests even among colleagues and risks losing his job. Police sources say that he could face up to five years in prison - or worse, be prosecuted for blasphemy - he has since "denounced" his past ideas and promises he has repented and is ready to embrace Islam. The fact remains however that despite the Constitution and the Indonesian Pancasila, the founding principles of the State, matters of conscience, religious freedom and personal rights - in many cases – are disregarded or merely superficial.

The story of Alexander, employed in an accounting office in public Dharmasraya administration, regency of West Sumatra province, was given prominent space in Indonesian media and provoked a wide response within civil society. Recently, the PNS official - Sipila Pegawai Negeri in the local language - wrote on the popular social network that he does not believe in the existence of God, at first used the personal profile, then created a page dedicated to a virtual community called Minang's Atheist Group to raise awareness of their own beliefs. Despite attempts to keep it "covered" and the anonymity of the network, co-workers were able to get back to his true identity and, when pressed, attacked him, accusing him of blasphemy.

Minang is a popular nickname in Indonesia to define both the native ethnic groups and their culture widespread in West Sumatra, where the majority of the population is Muslim. Dozens of people attacked Aan Alexander and handed him over to the police, who detained him on charges of " atheistic propaganda." Not believing in God on the archipelago is akin to being a "communist" and communism has always been considered a "threat" to national security and stability.

In the 1960s, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) plotted a coup, which later failed, against the former president Sukarno, which killed seven senior army officers. Subsequently, the President and General Suharto outlawed the movement and launched a bloody campaign that led to the massacre of many members and officials of the party.

That's why Alexander's statement triggered a double reaction: fundamentalist Muslims - including the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) – saw it as an offense to Islam, and a "communist threat" to national security . A campaign on Facebook in support of the victim (see photo) is of no avail. The police also accused him of forgery of a public document because, on his employment records he said was a believer and a Muslim. Facing a sentence of up to five years on charges of blasphemy, police sources said the man has "denounced" his behavior and, claims to have "repented," promising to “embrace” the Islamic faith.

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