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Indonesia: Atheist in Padang sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment
Asian Human Rights Commission Urgent Appeal - June 15, 2012
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information regarding the verdict delivered by Muaro Sijunjung District Court in the case of Alexander Aan who resides in Padang and was charged with religious blasphemy, atheism propagation and dissemination of religious hostility. On 14 June 2012, the Court found Alexander Aan guilty of the latter charge as prohibited under the Electronic Information and Transaction Law (ITE Law).
In the Urgent Appeal Case (for further details, please refer to AHRC-UAC-063-2012), the AHRC reported that Alexander Aan was charged under Article 28 (2) of the ITE Law for posting materials that provoked religious hatred on Facebook. The materials labeled as such by the law enforcement officials were a comic entitled 'The Prophet Muhammad was attracted to his own daughter-in-law' and a note entitled 'The Prophet Muhammad had been sleeping with his wife's maid.' Alexander Aan was also charged with Article 156a (a) of the Indonesian Penal Code (KUHP) on dissemination of atheism and Article 156a (b) of the KUHP on religious blasphemy.
According to his lawyers from LBH Padang, the Muaro Sijunjung District Court who was examining Alexander Aan case delivered its oral judgment on Thursday, 14 June 2012. The court found Alexander Aan guilty of disseminating information that provokes religious hatred or hostility on the internet as prohibited by the ITE Law and sentenced him to 2 and a half years imprisonment. It also ordered Alexander Aan to pay a fine of Rp 100 million which can be substituted with 3 months imprisonment.
The written judgment in this case is yet to be delivered and both Alexander Aan as well as the prosecutors are planning to lodge an appeal to the West Sumatra High Court.
The AHRC is concerned with the overly vague criminal provisions under the ITE Law as well as the broad interpretation of the court. Whereas recognizing that freedom of expression might be limited when the exercise of it amounts to dissemination of religious hatred or hostility, the AHRC is of the view that Alexander Aan's posts on Facebook did not amount to any of those. His posts are manifestation of his belief that his arrest, detention and sentence violate his rights to freedoms of expression and religion as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the 1945 Constitution.
The AHRC submitted an amicus curiae brief to Muaro Sijunjung District Court as an attempt to provide the judges with human rights perspective relevant to this case. It further points out that religious blasphemy is a concept which is not in accordance with human rights thus it should not be used to restrict freedom of expression. The full version of the amicus brief submitted by the AHRC to the court is available here (in English and Bahasa Indonesia).
Indonesia was heavily criticized for its lack commitment in protecting religious minority groups during the UN Universal Periodic Review session last month. It later accepted the recommendations given by New Zealand and Norway to revise and repeal laws as well as policies discriminatory towards religious minority groups yet there have been no measures taken to date to follow up such expressed commitment.
The AHRC is urging the Indonesian government to take the following measures:
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