AFT Blog # 17: Aan & Sokrat

Two Victims of Legal Persecution: Prison for Aan & Sokrat

Jaque Parisien

We all remember the case of Alex Aan. To refresh your memory, Alex, a young Indonesian blogger, was arrested for having written “God does not exist” on his Facebook wall. Shortly thereafter, fanatics from his neighbourhood, offended by such blasphemy, physically threatened him while others denounced him to police authorities who arrested him immediately. Since then we have learned that Alex has been condemned to a prison term of two and a half years, as well as a fine of about US$10,600. Furthermore, according to our sources, these events constitute a direct violation of Alex’ rights and also an infraction of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular articles 18 and 19, signed by Indonesia on February 23rd, 2006. I reproduce below these two articles, so you can see for yourself:

Article 18

  1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
  2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
  3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
  4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

Article 19

  1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
  2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
  3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
    1. For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
    2. For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

Indeed the restrictions in 19-3.(b) concerning public order are what the Indonesian authorities are using to justify Alex’ incarceration. On the other hand I would like to emphasize that the arrest of this young man was met with a wave of indignation. Several initiatives to free Alex have been undertaken, and you can find links to then at the end of this article.

As if this were not enough, a similar case in Morocco, more precisely in Marrekesh, has come to light, and it is thanks to one of our sympathizers on Facebook, Esprit Madani, that we learned of it. Indeed, another young blogger, Mohamed Sokrat, has been targeted by the authorities for daring to support secularism and individual rights, and for criticizing the regime. I emphasize that Morocco is also a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as of January 19th, 1977.

Events took a very ugly turn when the authorities also arrested the father and brother of the young blogger, alleging that the family was selling drugs. There is a similarity in the dubious measures taken against the two bloggers: Alex for having disturbed public order and Mohamed for having broken the law. The latter was obliged to sign an admission of guilt in order to protect his relatives from a state power which relies not only on divine decree but also on tactics typically used by totalitarian systems of all kinds. According to Reporters Without Borders, these are false accusations. The name of the young Moroccan, Sokrat, inevitably reminds one of his namesake, the Greek Socrates, who was unjustly condemned for denying the gods and corrupting youth. If one were cynical, it could be said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This case, like that of Alex Aan, is displayed on our Facebook page. My conversation with Esprit Madani can be found there as well.

Those who visit our site regularly or who are members of our Facebook group have already seen articles dealing with these two cases. So why are we discussing them again, you ask? Because not only do these two cases present striking similarities, but indeed represent that against which we fight: religious intolerance. You will surely agree that whenever religion is involved in affairs of state, it becomes so much easier for zealots to excite public opinion against an individual by invoking pretexts such as “blasphemy.” Furthermore – and it is a toss-up which is worse – it becomes so much easier for a political power, taking advantage of the strong presence of religion in public affairs, to silence a citizen by accusing him or her of a crime which goes against the moral system prescribed by the dominant religion. The goal of each of these tactics is to silence anyone who attempts to throw fresh light on the darkness maintained by religious and political authorities.

I therefore appeal to you to express your disapproval by signing the respective petitions of our two convicted friends, and, if you can, by giving generously to organizations fighting for their freedom.

Links about Alex Ann

Links about Mohamed Sokrat

United Nations Links

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