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The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is calling for the Indonesian government to guarantee the freedom and safety of Alexander Aan, an Indonesian arrested for blasphemy. IHEU — the global union of more than 100 Humanist and atheist groups from 40 countries including Indonesia — has also raised Aan’s case with the United Nations. Aan was arrested for blasphemy last week in Dharmasraya, in the province of West Sumatra.

Aan was originally taken into what was called “protective custody” by police on January 18 after he was attacked by a mob of Muslim militants reacting to criticism of Islam that Aan made on Facebook. The police then arrested Aan on three separate charges: insulting religion (which has a maximum sentence of five years jail), the electronic transmission of defamatory comments (six years jail), and false reporting on an official form (six years jail). The charges of blasphemy and defamation relate to his criticism of Islam on Facebook. The final charge claims that his application for his civil service job falsely stated he was Muslim when he was an atheist.

“The real crime here is the physical assault on Aan, not his expression of his personal beliefs,” said IHEU International Representative Matt Cherry. “We have therefore requested that the UN raise Aan’s case with the Indonesian authorities. We believe Indonesia should drop all charges based on Aan’s beliefs and statements and that they should guarantee his safety from the violent mob that attacked him. We also call on Indonesia to change the laws that deny its citizens their right to identify as non-religious.”

The government of Indonesia recognizes only six faith traditions: Islam, Protestant Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Citizens are forced to choose from one of these traditions when applying for identification cards or filling in government forms.

Indonesian freethought activist Karl Karnadi highlighted the attack on Aan as part of a disturbing trend: “The beating and arrest of Alex is not an isolated event. It is a part of a series of increasing religious intolerance in Indonesia, which has victimized Ahmadiyya, Shia, Christians, Buddhists, and which now is victimizing the non-religious.”

Karnadi called on his government to live up to its own principles of diversity: “Indonesia has a national motto, ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’, which means ‘Unity in Diversity’. True diversity requires freedom to express diverse opinions and freedom to express one’s true identity. I dream of an Indonesia that sees diversity as its strength, not its weakness. To achieve that, both freedom of religion and freedom of expression must be guaranteed for every citizen, regardless of religion or belief. Then our motto will be more than mere words.”

About the International Humanist and Ethical Union (www.IHEU.org):

Founded in 1952, IHEU is a federation of more than 100 atheist and humanist groups from 40 countries. It has consultative status at the United Nations, UNESCO, Council of Europe and African Union.

For more information: contact Matt Cherry at pr@IHEU.org

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