White House Petition to Help Jailed Indonesian Atheist Falls Short
A petition to President Barack Obama looking to highlight the plight of an Indonesian blogger jailed for writing "God doesn't exist," has not been able to gather enough signatures to warrant an official response from the White House.
The petition in support of the atheist needed to gather 25,000 signatures within 30 days to warrant a response from the White House, however, the number fell well short of the required mark.
"I'm disappointed -- not necessarily in other people for not signing the petition, but for Alexander Aan, who remains sitting in a jail cell merely for stating his position on religion," Michael De Dora, Director at the Office of Public Policy at the Center for Inquiry, who started the petition, shared with The Christian Post.
Alexander Aan was jailed earlier this year for writing "God doesn't exist" on Facebook, which was deemed against the laws of the world's most populous Muslim country. While the Indonesian government officially recognizes six religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism and Protestantism, it has often been accused of being intolerant against religious minorities.
Several atheist groups have since launched efforts to try and raise awareness on the issue and highlight the attacks on religious freedom in Indonesia, including a petition aimed at the White House to bring more attention to the case. On Aug. 16, however, the signature count reached just shy of 8,000, which was well below the 25,000 needed to secure an official response from the White House.
"This is an unconscionable violation of any decent moral code, and several widely agreed-upon international treaties, of which Indonesia is a signatory," De Dora told CP. "No human being should ever be punished for speaking his or her mind on religion, or peacefully practicing his or her religion or life philosophy. Aan, and all others in similar situations, must be freed, and laws restricting freedom of belief and expression must be repealed."
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De Dora clarified, however, that the goal of the petition was not to have President Obama get involved in the case directly – but if enough signatures were gathered, the State Department, which has intervened in such cases before, could call upon the Indonesian government "to respect the rights to freedom of belief and expression" and to request they "immediately release Aan."
As for Aan's current state, De Dora explained that they had very little information, since Aan's only communication since his imprisonment was a brief letter that read, "I can't move my mind and always fight infiltration. I need to clarify that I always concern with humanity and science. Forever." The letter, available on the organization's website, is written in broken English, and ends with Aan thanking his supporters for their love and support.
"Besides that, we know that his experience has not been pleasant. He was beaten by an angry mob before being arrested. He was then imprisoned in Padang, but was beaten by inmates who had learned of his offenses. He has since been transferred to another prison, but unfortunately I am not sure where it is located," De Dora added.
However, De Dora has said that there are no plans to give up, and he insists there is still a lot that can be done to help Aan, as well as to defend the rights of atheists, religious minorities, and dissidents who have been punished under blasphemy and other laws in Indonesia.
De Dora explained that prosecutors in Indonesia are still pushing for a longer sentence for Aan beyond the current maximum of five years imprisonment for such an offense. At the same time, another organization, Atheist Alliance International, is helping to collect funds for his appeal, which people can contribute to by visiting the donation website.