Indonesia’s underground atheists lay low after Facebook post that led to imprisonment

May 19, 2015

Photo: Christian Brown/GlobalPost

By Christian Brown

As the call to morning prayer rings out over Yogyakarta at sunrise, Arimbi prepares herself for a long day of classes and waitressing at a local cafe.

Wrapping herself in a bright blue hijab, the 26-year-old climbs onto her motorbike and heads to the Islamic university where she studies community development. But Arimbi has a secret she keeps from her classmates, professors and all but her family and closest confidants. She’s an atheist.

While Indonesia is often celebrated as one of the world’s few Muslim-majority democracies, non-religious people say the country’s tough anti-blasphemy laws force them to live a façade of faith, masquerading as Muslims when many spend hours a day mocking religion in private online forums.

But millennial-aged atheists like Arimbi are growing bolder, trying to change national opinions on atheism by living as openly as possible while avoiding jail time. She said she wears the hijab on her college campus, Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, and when visiting her strict Muslim father, but only out of respect for her classmates and family. Arimbi said walking away from Islam in her late teens was the most liberating choice she’s ever made.


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One comment on “Indonesia’s underground atheists lay low after Facebook post that led to imprisonment”

  • 1
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    It’s an uphill battle for religious freedom and freedom of expression in Indonesia, a country with a poulation of over 250 million (almost as many as the USA). The strength and the courage of these young people is nothing short of admirable. What we take for granted here in the West is an everyday struggle for them.



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