Thu, Jul 12, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Double lives of the non-believers

Despite Indonesia’s freedom of expression laws and purported moderate brand of Islam, its atheists live in fear of jail or worse


“The worst thing that can happen in Indonesia is we can be killed,” said one 35-year-old graphic designer who was raised as a Catholic. “I genuinely fear for my life.”

Many apostates — particularly those from conservative Muslim backgrounds — assume two identities, like Atmowijoyo.

“As long as they keep quiet there is not much risk,” said Timo Duile, a researcher at the University of Bonn who has studied atheism in Indonesia. “That is the reason that most atheists I talked to prefer to stay incognito.”


No one knows how many atheists there are in Indonesia.

While small groups hold regular meetings in large cities, most have sought out like-minded individuals online.

The “You Ask, Atheists Answer” open forum on Facebook has nearly 60,000 members, and there are more like it online.

Karina, based in Singapore, said when she found a private Facebook page for fellow atheists in her native Indonesia she finally felt she was “not alone.”

Atheists interviewed said they worried about doxxing — publishing private information to identify users — by radical Islamist cyber groups, which regularly make death threats.

Indonesia is not the only Muslim-majority nation where non-believers face danger.

Secular and atheist bloggers have been killed in Bangladesh, atheists have been threatened by government officials in Malaysia and jailed in Egypt.

Indonesia, by contrast, is often praised for its moderate, inclusive brand of Islam — but that is something many atheists say is no longer a reality.

Karina said she was concerned about friends back home. “I’m quite worried about them.”

And even in Singapore, she felt she needed to watch her back.

“I’m becoming more careful. I still post some critiques about Islam, but now it is more subtle.”

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