How dare you not defend Alex!

In a letter to the editor in the latest edition of the National Secular Society’s very excellent Newsline, Raymond Carlise writes:

I have considered Edward Conduit’s appeal to sign the petition in defence of the Indonesian atheist who has been jailed for saying there is no God, but have concluded that I cannot sign [the] Avaaz petition for Alex.
There may well be no God for Alex, as for you or for me. With the Indonesians however it’s evidently a different matter. The limits of subjectivity and of objectivity have to be recognized.

Really?

Hmm. But isn’t Alex also an Indonesian? What about his culture and opinion? Or does that not count?

This is the same racist cultural relativism that sees the ‘other’ as one and the same with the state and established religious institutions that oppresses them and ignores and justifies violations of rights and freedoms at the expense of countless dissenters such as Alex.

Raymond would never hold such appallingly low standards for himself – after all, the Church of England is the established church and the queen, its head. There are bishops in the House of Lords and prayers in parliament, councils and schools. The UK is not a secular society by any means so whilst Raymond may be a secularist or atheist – if I may paraphrase his words – ‘with the British however it’s evidently a different matter’…

How dare he not defend Alex and worse still justify this lack of empathy and basic human solidarity by hiding behind a racist notion that ‘Indonesians’ are different and deserve less.

If the world was filled with people who thought this way, we’d still have slavery, racial apartheid and women without the right to vote.

Thankfully that is not the case.

Alex, a young civil servant, has been sentenced to two and a half years merely for saying there is no god on facebook. The case is being appealed by Islamists who think the sentence is too short!

Secularists everywhere must be at the forefront of defending him. If you haven’t done so already, do it now.

Sign Ed Conduit’s petition and one that was initiated earlier on Alex’s behalf.

Write to the Indonesian authorities here and demand his release.

We must not and cannot leave Alex alone.

I just won’t allow it.

Islam hasn’t been tarnished; humanity has

30 year old atheist Alex Aan has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined today, Thursday, for posting ‘there is no god’ on Facebook and being critical of Islam. He was found guilty of “deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity” under the Electronic Information and Transactions law.

Aan had been indicted with two other charges — persuading others to embrace atheism and blasphemy — and prosecutors had sought a three-and-a-half-year jail term for him but the court dropped these two.

According to the judge, “What he did has caused anxiety to the community and tarnished Islam.”

FYI, Islam’s not a person; Alex Aan is.

What the Indonesian court and government have done is to tarnish humanity itself.

This is not the end of the story – just the beginning.

Alex has to be freed. He has done nothing wrong except express his views.

Write to the Indonesian authorities today and tell them to review the case and free him now. You can find contact details here.

 

(News via Rafiq Mahmood)

The only hatred is towards Alex Aan himself

Here is Rafiq Mahmood’s letter to the editor in response to a 3 May piece in the Guardian on Indonesian atheist Alexander Aan:

I read Kate Hodal’s piece on Alexander Aan (Indonesia’s atheists face battle for religious freedom – 3 May) with great interest having recently visited Alex with his legal team.

I was more than a little annoyed at the impression given by Ms Hodal in describing the members of the Legal Assistance Foundation in Padang as “a ragtag team of young smokers in T-shirts and sandals”. The Indonesian Legal Assistance Foundation (Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia) is a charitable organisation set up to defend the legal rights of poor people. They are dedicated and professional lawyers who work extremely hard under the most difficult of circumstances. The Padang branch are open 24 hours and are on call to help people anywhere in the entire province of West Sumatra. Very sadly, as Ms Hodal should know, smoking is widespread and endemic in Indonesia being promoted by massive uncontrolled advertising. It is not unusual for people to work in T-shirts and sandals in offices which are not air-conditioned in a tropical country and casual dress is also a policy in LBH offices so as to put their clients at ease.

Perhaps it did not come across in the article how weak legally the case against Alexander Aan is. There are three counts on the indictment, all relating to an alleged posting on the facebook page Ateis Minang (Minang – West Sumatran – Atheists) of a link to a graphic novel style website covering an incident in the life of Muhammad where he allegedly had sex with his wife’s maid. The website story itself claims to be based on accepted Hadith. [Read more…]

Alex Aan’s trial begins Thursday

Alex Aan‘s trial begins tomorrow, Thursday, with the first prosecution witnesses being called, according to Rafiq Mahmood. Alex is the 30 year old Indonesian civil servant who has been charged with ‘insulting’ Islam in an atheist group in Facebook.

Rafiq says:

This isn’t just for Alex but for all of us. There have been far too many “blasphemy” cases which have just slipped by. We have to stop it if we have a chance and Indonesia is a very good place to make a stand.

And a stand we must make.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the Atheist Alliance International are collecting money towards Alex’s case. If you want to support his case financially, you can send a donation to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Just make sure to earmark it for Alex Aan.

INDONESIA: An atheist on trial for religious defamation

The Asia Human Rights Commission has issued an appeal on behalf of Alex Aan. Read it here. Their appeal gives a lot of information on the case and also gives a list of places you can send your appeal on behalf of Alex. Remember, it’s serious. He faces up to 6 years in prison for making a statement on Facebook.

If you want to support Alex’s case financially, you can send a donation to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Just make sure to earmark it for Alex Aan. So far, we have raised over £600, including a donation from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK.

Interview with Alex Aan, Indonesian in prison for ‘insulting’ Islam

Rafiq Mahmood visited Alex Aan on Thursday. Alex is the 30 year old Indonesian civil servant who has been charged with ‘insulting’ Islam in an atheist group in Facebook. Aan is in the early stages of his trial – the exchange of lawyers submissions. Up until Thursday Alex was being held in the court cells. He has now been transferred to the local prison in Muara Sijunjung on remand.

The photo is of (left to right) Rafiq Mahmoud, Alex Aan, Roni Saputra – Alex’s lawyer from the Legal Aid Foundation – and the defence attorney (in uniform) keeping a careful eye on proceedings.

Here’s an interview Rafiq did on his meeting with Alex:

Interviewer: I saw you in the court sitting behind Alexander Aan. Can you tell me who you are and why you are here?

Rafiq Mahmood: Sure. My name is Rafiq Mahmood. I am an English teacher and I live in Bogor. I guess there are three reasons why I am here. First, as soon as I heard about Alex’s case, and especially after seeing his interview on Al-Jazeera in the police station in Dharmasraya I wanted to meet him. Secondly, although I am not a lawyer most of my professional life before I became an English teacher was closely tied up with the law and I am particularly interested in human rights and individual freedom. Thirdly, the outcome of Alex’s case could affect us all, including me.

Interviewer: Have you had a chance to meet Pak Aan?

RM: Yes. I was allowed to talk with him for about ten minutes after the hearing today.

Interviewer: What were your impressions of him?

RM: More than anything else his extraordinary gentleness.

Interviewer: Can I ask what you talked about?

RM: He said that the most important thing of all is love. The world is one and we are all brothers and sisters. He was deeply troubled by the news from all around the world of people suffering. Not only in Syria, and Iraq and Afghanistan where people are in the middle of conflict but also in the countries of Africa where people were hungry and mothers were watching their children dying. Also in America there were a lot of people suffering now. These are our brothers and sisters, Alex said, it doesn’t matter where they are from, it doesn’t matter about their country. I asked him, “or what they look like or their belief?” No. It doesn’t matter what they look like or what they believe. The only way to solve the problems of this world is through empathy. We can’t do that if we don’t know about each other. We need education and need to talk about ideas and information freely. There can’t be any inside or outside. We are all one. “Bhinneka Tunggal ika?” Yes. Bhinneka Tunggal ika – Unity in diversity. The most important thing is love and unity and empathy.

I told him that many people from around the world were interested in him and his case. Does he want me to tell the world this message from him? He said he didn’t know whether it counted as a message, but yes, he wanted the world to know that is what he believes.

Interviewer: Did he say anything about his case?

RM: He looked down for a while. He said that he didn’t want anyone to be hurt. He said he was sorry if he did anything wrong. He really didn’t want anybody to be upset. I said, “Alex. You haven’t done anything wrong.” He looked up and a sort of light came into his eyes. He held up his right hand, his finger pointing upwards. “I truly believe,” he said, “that I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Interviewer: You mentioned before that you are interested in the legal aspects of the case.

RM: Of course, as I said before I am not a lawyer and he has a fine and dedicated team from LBH Padang who are doing splendid work for him. I don’t want anything I may say to affect the case and I want to emphasise that this is my personal opinion only.

Alex has been indicted on three counts. Exactly the same evidence has been adduced for each count and no explanation has been given in any of the counts as to how the alleged offences match the evidence.

The first count, under Section 28 of the Information and Electronic Transactions Act is clearly aimed at people stirring up hatred or hostility on the grounds of race, religion or membership of particular groups. The only hatred that has been stirred up (and that not by electronic means) has been against Alex himself. No sane and therefore legally competent person would intentionally stir up hatred against himself. A more gentle, loving person than Alex or someone less likely to stir up hatred or hostility among anyone would be difficult to imagine.

The second and third count under Section 156a of the Criminal Code relate to the so-called blasphemy provisions. Anti-blasphemy laws have no part to play in a modern society. All ideas should be open to challenge and analysis. Human society only makes progress through the free exchange of information and ideas. People need protection; ideas – including religious ones – do not.

The second count is that Alex deliberately and publicly said or did something antagonistic to a religion practised in Indonesia. Now the practices and beliefs of every religion in Indonesia are not only opposed but are openly antagonistic to the beliefs of every other belief practised in Indonesia. Their acts of worship and discussion are open to everyone. In that sense they are public. They are certainly deliberate. If the wording of Section 156a item a. were to be applied to the letter then every single religious act of every religious denomination in Indonesia would be liable under it. The effect would be to shut down freedom of worship instead of protect it. You would have a Maoist or Stalinist state. Indonesia would be turned into North Korea. Religion would be outlawed.

Clearly the meaning of “deliberately and publicly” means the same as crying “Fire” in a crowded theatre – in other words making a statement in a place where it was intended and likely to cause the maximum distress and disturbance and not just making a deliberate statement in a forum that was publicly available.

Alex posted in a page called Ateist Minang. Everyone knows what ateist means (or think they do). If you believe in a god then you are very likely to find anything in an atheist site uncomfortable if not downright offensive. If you pick up a bottle marked POISON and drink from it, you cannot sue the manufacturers if, as was predictable and likely, you fell ill afterwards.

The third count is impossible for an individual to do, least of all someone as marginalised as a supposed atheist in religion soaked Indonesia. 156a item b. prohibits anyone from preventing someone believing in the “one almighty god”. No one can make or prevent anyone into believing or not believing anything. The nearest that anyone can get to that is a state which has control over the education system and has the power to outlaw religious services and to close and demolish religious buildings. It is difficult to see how a powerless individual, least of all someone as mild mannered as Alexander Aan, could possibly commit such an offence.

Interviewer: Thank you very much for that. There is just one other thing I want to ask you. You said that the outcome of Pak Aan’s case could affect everyone, including yourself. How is that?

RM: I live in Indonesia. This is my home and I am part of Indonesian society, even if I am not a citizen. The youth of Indonesia love their Blackberries and their Facebook. They love to talk with each other. Having a minority belief, or non-belief, can make you feel very isolated unless you can communicate with someone who shares the way you think. If we cannot share information and ideas freely, including ideas which may upset some people, then we become trapped, frightened and alone. We have lost the right to be ourselves, which was surely what independence and the struggle to achieve it was all about.

It is no secret that I am no longer a Muslim. That is not my fault. I have done nothing wrong. I just couldn’t believe in it any more. I have made many friends through Facebook and through sharing thoughts and ideas. If this case goes against Alex we will no longer have that freedom. We will be forever listening out for the police knocking on the door in the early hours of the morning and wanting to check our computer files. That is not the Indonesia I love. We must all be free to be ourselves. Bhinneka Tunggal Ika!

****

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the Atheist Alliance International are collecting money towards his case. If you want to support Alex’s case financially, you can send a donation to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Just make sure to earmark it for Alex Aan. So far, we have raised over £600, including a donation from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK).

Update on Alex Aan and Hamza Kashgari: We must keep the pressure on

ALEX AAN

If you recall, I had told you about the case of 30 year old atheist Alex Aan, the civil servant who had been beaten and arrested in Indonesia because his postings on Facebook ‘insulted Islam’. In an update on his case, it’s reported that he has been indicted on three counts. The report says that the trial was attended by five witnesses who had seen the pictures and posts on the Facebook group [and obviously still lived to tell the tale].

The Prosecutor has said the posts caused a ‘public disturbance and outcry’ [yes to all FIVE members of the public]. Apparently, the indictment was ‘strengthened by the fact that Yuhandri, an expert witness, said a person was not allowed to write anything that created public disturbance and outcry.’

Whilst this all seems like a really bad joke, let’s not forget that Alex has been in prison since 20 January. You may know that the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the Atheist Alliance International are collecting money towards his case. We’ve sent him a letter asking him how he wants the money to be spent and what he needs.

A human rights activist will have gone to Padang today to meet Alex and his lawyers at Sijunjung court and give him our letter. He’ll also bring back more details about his case and what more we can do to help.

If you want to support Alex’s case financially, you can send a donation to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Just make sure to earmark it for Alex Aan. So far, we have raised around £600, including a donation from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK).

HAMZA KASHGARI

In other news, there have been some reports that 23 year old Hamza Kashgari who faces execution in Saudi Arabia for his Tweets about Mohammad is now out of danger and is to be released imminently or that he is only being held ‘for his own safety’. But these reports are not true.

I just got two messages from a family member and a friend. One message said:

That’s not true, nothing has been confirmed so far, everything still foggy and in a gray area. We hear from him from one time to time informing us that he’s ok and that’s it.

We must keep the pressure on the Saudi goverment so that it doesn’t dare hurt him because the world’s attention has been turned elsewhere or because people think he is now safe. He’s not.

Here’s a petition you can sign; it’s already been signed by the likes of Soad Baba Aissa, Gita Sahgal, Salman Rushdie and Richard Dawkins. Please sign it now if you haven’t already done so.

By the way, here’s a site of his supporters. It has a counter. He has been in prison now for 60 days…

In defence of Alex Aan

I just got the following email:

We are a group of international people, Indonesian as well as other nationalities, including ex-indonesian journalists as well as legal assistants, supporting Alex Aan in regard to his recent arrest and charges under Indonesian law for blasphemy due to his posts on the wall of his Facebook group of which he is one of the admin. Alex Aan exercised his right to free speech in a democratic country, Indonesia, by openly questioning the existence of god and criticizing Islam.

We are please asking for your help in spreading the word about our Facebook group.

We are very concerned about Alex Aan and his family’s safety and hope that international pressure and outrage at this violation of his basic human rights will result in him being freed as soon as possible. Thank you for your help in support of Alex Aan.

Well what are you waiting for? Support Alex now. And the right to blasphemy.