Alex Aan faces up to 11 years in prison, ostracism from his family, community, and country, and possible physical violence for admitting he is an atheist in a country where faith in God is mandatory.
Indonesia is home to the largest Islamic population in the world, but the government grants freedom of religion to Islam and five other belief systems: Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. However, insulting a major religion is a crime, and denying the existence of God is considered blasphemy and is punishable by jail time.
Mr. Aan, a 30 year old civil servant, grew up devout in religion, according to his parents, who claimed that he "has always been diligent, always praying in the mosque, five times a day." However, Aan admits his atheism since the age of 11, saying, " I thought 'If God exists, why is there suffering? Why is there war, poverty, hell?' Because, to me, God would not create this hell."
Aan's lifelong pursuit of truth, logic, and reason led him to do the unthinkable in his country. He went on Facebook and simply declared, "God doesn't exist." His action had two consequences. He insulted religion, which is punishable by five years in prison. Also, he had done so over the Internet, which in Indonesia adds another six years to his possible sentence.
Aan was arrested and is currently being held in a rural medium security prison, where he has been for two months. He is afraid to say anything about why he is in prison to his other inmates in fear of violent repercussions. He had already suffered a severe beating at the hands of other inmates when he was initially held in his local prison.
Aan's legal team must travel four hours across dangerous jungle roads just to visit him. Taufik Fajrin, one of the five lawyers representing Aan pro bono admitted, "What Alex has 'done' is exercise freedom of expression. We'll try our best to get him freed but just hope he'll get a minimum sentence. Promoting human rights here is hard because you face fanatics and hardline culturalists. Even we, as his lawyers, are worried that hardliners will come to our office or homes and throw stones at us. It's a challenge."
Aan is not alone on an international scale. The Atheist Alliance International and the British-based Council of ex-Muslims have voiced their support. Regardless of the amount of effort to clear his name, Aan feels the verdict has already been made, but his will and strength to stand up for his beliefs is still strong. Aan stated, "I only want to see a better world and help create a better world. If I cannot … then I would prefer to die."