By Farahnaz Ispahani
December 31, 2018
Indonesian English language media and Human
Rights Watch have expressed alarm as Indonesia Launched a so-called ‘Snitch’
App targeting religious minorities. It is feared within human rights circles
that the app has the will encourage users to report people suspected of heresy.
Last month, Bakor Pakem, a body charged
with religious oversight in the Indonesia Attorney General’s office, launched
an application that allows mobile phone users to report individuals suspected
of “religious heresy.”
The app, named Smart Pakem is available in
the Google Play store and is an extension of an official website and hotline
service. These were created and launched by Bakor Pakem to supposedly protect
Indonesia’s six officially recognized religions – Islam, Protestantism,
Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
A second and equally disturbing reason for
the app is to identify those who are committing blasphemy.
According to Human Rights Wartch, Asia, the
app lists several religious groups, including the Ahmadiyya, Shia Muslim, as
well as Gafatar and names their leaders and Indonesian office addresses.
The risk this app poses to an Indonesia
that is increasingly moving from a conservative but inclusive Muslim majority
to a more radical and extreme form of Islam. It will help Islamists to abuse
Indonesia’s religious minorities who are under greater threat as the years go
Bakor Pakem was created in 1952, under
Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and moved to the Attorney General’s Office
in 2004. Its main goal is to enforce the 1965 blasphemy law and it has branches
in every province and regency under public prosecutors’ offices.
Over the last five decades, Bakor Pakem has
been instrumental in banning more than 30 religions, ranging from indigenous
faiths like the Agama Djawa Sunda in 1964 to global religions like the
Jehovah’s Witness in 1976. In 2016, the office was instrumental in charging the
Jakarta governor with blasphemy against Islam. Governor Ahok lost his
reelection and was sentenced to a two year prison term in May 2017.
Indonesia is a party to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “[e]veryone shall
have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion …. No one shall
be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a
religion or belief of his choice.”
A Buddhist woman’s conviction recently on
blasphemy charges has alarmed many in Indonesia. It demonstrates yet another case of the
erosion of religious pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
Malian, a 44-year-old Buddhist from the
island of Sumatra, was convicted recently of violating Indonesia’s
controversial blasphemy law and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Her only
crime was complaining about the volume of the Azaan/call to prayer from a
mosque’s loudspeakers near her home.
Last year, popular former Jakarta governor
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is a Christian and is commonly known as “Ahok,” was
sent to prison for two years under the blasphemy law for allegedly
disrespecting the Koran.
Meiliana, who like many Indonesians uses
only one name, may appeal the decision against her, even though convictions of
this type are rarely overturned.
Many Indonesians who want to repel the
forces of increasing Sharia calls for a Sharia compliant state have been
invoking Pancasila or the Five Principles, the Indonesian state philosophy,
formulated by the Indonesian nationalist leader Sukarno as the best defence.
The Pancasila supporters in the Indonesian parliament and outside it believe it
is the most indigenous and therefore natural and uniquely Indonesian way to
fight the forces of religious obscurantism.
Sukarno had argued that the future
Indonesian state should be based on the Five Principles: Indonesian
nationalism; internationalism, or humanism; consent, or democracy; social
prosperity; and belief in one God.
The Five Principles have since become the
blueprint of the Indonesian nation. In the constitution of the Republic of
Indonesia promulgated in 1945, the Five Principles were listed in a slightly
different order and in different words: the belief in one God, just and
civilized humanity, Indonesian unity, democracy under the wise guidance of
representative consultations, and social justice for all the peoples of
Among the many issues surrounding Pancasila
as an effective tool to fight back extremism is the issue of belief in one god.
Hindus, Buddhists and other religious groups in Indonesia have to maintain that
they are monotheistic in faith and practice to come under the umbrella of
Pancasila. Also, as practitioners of Freedom of religion and belief or non will
point out that those of no faith or those outside the faiths covered by
Pancasila have no protection at all.
But, as the cases of Governor Ahok and
Meiliana show even those faiths like Christianity and Buddhism that were an
integral part of the 6 religions or faiths covered by Pancasila are no longer
The need of an hour is an open and
cross-community conversation on how to fight extremism together. The government
of Indonesia needs to backtrack on apps and blasphemy charges and understand
that unless they get serious about fighting this scourge they are fast on the
track to becoming another Pakistan.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for
scholars, author and former member of the Pakistani parliament