Indonesia’s state ideology of Pancasila has come under scathing criticism for enabling a culture of repression against atheists, with an international rights organization citing a case in which the credo was invoked to jail a civil servant for renouncing his faith.
In its “Freedom of Thought 2012” report, the International Humanist and Ethical Union highlighted the case of Alexander Aan as providing “perhaps the clearest example of how the new social media freedoms are colliding with the old regimes of religious restrictions.”
It noted that Alexander, a civil servant working in West Sumatra, was arrested for posting a comment on Facebook in which he criticized Islam and revealed that he gave up the faith to become an atheist.
He was subsequently charged on three separate counts: insulting religion, the electronic transmission of defamatory comments and false reporting on an official form. He was sentenced in June to two and a half years in prison.
“The charges of blasphemy and defamation [are] related to his criticism of Islam on Facebook. The final charge claimed that his application for his civil service job falsely stated he was Muslim when he was in fact an atheist,” the report said.
The IHEU argued that as long as Indonesian law only recognized the religions of Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Hinduism, people who did not identify with any of them, including atheists, would “continue to experience official discrimination.”
“This discrimination occurs often in the context of civil registration of marriages and births and other situation involving family law,” the report said.
“Applicants for government jobs must also identify as belonging to one of the six official religions. To register [with] an organization in Indonesia, the organizers must declare their allegiance to [Pancasila]; the first principle of Pancasila is ‘Belief in the one and only God.’ That means no atheist group can legally register itself.”
Worldwide, the IHEU noted “the trend of prosecuting ‘blasphemies’ shared through social media is most marked in Muslim-majority countries,” citing cases in Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, among others.
“When 21st century technology collides with medieval blasphemy laws, it seems to be atheists who are getting hurt, as more of them go to prison for sharing their personal beliefs via social media,” said Matt Cherry, the report’s editor.