AFT Blog # 05: Alex Aan

Guilty of Unbelief: The Ordeal of Alex Aan

Jaque Parisien

This very disturbing news story illustrates, if it were not already obvious, the dangerous convergence between atheophobia and anti-blasphemy legislation.

To be perfectly honest, Alex Aan’s ordeal is one of many ignominies perpetrated in the name of religious beliefs. We have all heard or read of some countries’ intolerance towards free speech or free thought. But that does not make it more bearable or understandable to those of us living in societies that have evolved just enough to allow each individual the right either to nurture faith or to discard it as mere superstition. We can hardly imagine what it would be like to say “God does not exist” and then suffer the physical abuse of neighbours that disagree with us, and then get thrown behind bars.

Alex Aan’s story begins in 2008, in Indonesia, when he openly repudiated his belief in a god. This repudiation led him later on to participate actively as an administrator on a Facebook page, Minang atheists, ostensibly defending the right to question the existence of God. Alex wrote articles and debated strongly with believers who, in turn, did not hesitate to beat him up and denounce him to the authorities, the notorious ulemas. The reader has to understand that in Indonesia, you have to choose one of six officially approved religions: Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism or Confucianism. Atheism? Forget it! Although six religions might appear to be a sign of open mindedness compared to other countries, it still leaves atheism or for that matter agnosticism punishable by law.

As it now stands, Aan is facing imprisonment for five years as stipulated in Indonesia’s Criminal code for the crime of, and I quote, “publicly acting in a manner that spreads hatred and abuse while tainting officially recognized religions in Indonesia.”[1] Furthermore, it would appear that his tormentors have given Aan the opportunity to disavow his atheism or else his family might suffer the dire consequences of his stubbornness. Aan, on the contrary, seems determined to hold on to his atheism and I must acknowledge his courage and determination. Needless to say, atheist and religious organizations alike have condemned this breach of human rights and are asking that Aan be released as soon as possible.

As I am writing this article, I have no more information regarding this case and I have reached the limits of my knowledge. I am still struggling with the fact that most written or television medias, as far as I know, have not seized this opportunity to condemn the intolerance and the repression of free speech and free thought in Indonesia. Nevertheless, a petition site[2] and a Facebook community[3] have blossomed these last few days and this is perhaps a sign that the web community will finally prove to be the spark that triggers the all-out condemnation of this horrendous and unacceptable ordeal. Or maybe I am just too optimistic.


  1. Outrageous! Indonesian Atheist In Danger Because of “Blasphemy”,, 23 January 2012.
  2. Petition: Drop charges against Alex Aan for ‘blaspheming Islam’!
  3. Facebook: Support Alex Aan’s Human Rights
  4. AAI launches appeal to support Alex Aan, Atheist Alliance International, 25 January 2012.

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