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Indonesia: Church Closures And Jailed Atheist Shows Rising Religious Intolerance

06/21/2012 Indonesia (CSW) - Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is deeply concerned at the recent further deterioration in respect for religious freedom in Indonesia, illustrated by the sentencing on 15 June of Indonesian atheist Alexander An to two and a half years in prison for blasphemy and publicly declaring himself an atheist, the reported closure of at least 20 churches in Aceh and the continuing intimidation and restrictions on churches such as HKBP Filadelfia in Bekasi, West Java.

Alexander An, a 30 year-old former civil servant, allegedly posted statements and pictures on Facebook as a member of the Minang atheist Facebook group, which some people construed as insulting Islam and the prophet Mohammed.

On 20 January he was charged with “disseminating information aimed at inciting religious hatred or hostility” under Article 28 (2) of the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law, religious blasphemy under Article 156a(a) of the Indonesian Criminal Code and calling for others to embrace atheism under Article 156a(b) of the same code. At the conclusion of the trial yesterday he was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100 million rupiah (the equivalent of US$11,000) for violating the ITE Law.

The Jakarta Post reports that prosecutors have filed an appeal because they believe Alexander An’s sentence to be too lenient. They had initially argued for a three and a half year sentence and no fine. Mr An’s lawyers will also be filing an appeal.

CSW visited Mr An in prison on 18 May as part of a ten-day fact-finding visit to investigate violations of freedom of religion or belief in Indonesia.

Although Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, protects six major religions in the state ideology, the ‘Pancasila’, it also requires Indonesians to adhere to a religion. The six approved religions are Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, while followers of other beliefs, and those who consider themselves atheists, are provided no legal recognition and are particularly vulnerable to abuses under the blasphemy laws.

CSW is also very concerned by reports of the closure and threatened demolition of at least 20 churches in Aceh. Several churches in West Java are also currently facing harassment, intimidation and restrictions, particularly the HKBP Filadelfia church in Bekasi, which CSW visited last month.

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