In Indonesia, the law guarantees citizens freedom of religion, but only as long as they adhere to Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Confucianism or Hinduism. By expressing his atheism Aan - who posted the phrase "God doesn't exist" on a Facebook page – is held to have breached Indonesia's official state philosophy (known as the Pancasila), which requires citizens to have "Belief in the one and only God".
Aan is the first atheist to be tried for breaching this aspect of the Pancasila and, as the Guardian reports, his case has led to calls for his execution by hardline Islamists, and he was badly beaten while in custody by a mob who learned of the charges he is facing.
According to Indonesian human rights activists, Aan's case is part of a growing trend towards religious intolerance, with members of non-Muslim religious minorities also facing attack from the country's increasingly influential religious conservatives, despite the legal protection ostensibly offered to the followers of some non-Islamic faiths.
The Guardian quotes one hardline Muslim, Zainuddin Datuk Rajo Lenggang, whose view seems emblematic of this worrying trend:
"If you are not a religious person, you might be dangerous to others, behaving without control and doing anything you like. Religion brings order. You cannot be an individualist."Aan's plight serves as a reminder of the severe dangers non-believers face in many parts of the world. Indeed, as Alom Shaha points out in our current cover story, even in Britain atheists from some backgrounds can be afraid of being open about their beliefs, for fear of alienating their families and their wider communities. Alom argues that those atheists who have never experienced such problems need to be aware of this, and suggests that the atheist community needs to offer support to those who face being ostracised, and perhaps worse, for admitting their non-religious beliefs.
There is a Facebook page in support of Aan, and the Asian Human Rights Commission are urging people to petition the Indonesian government on his behalf.