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  • Sanal Edamaruku

Indonesian Blasphemy App is a direct challenge to Free Speech

By Sanal Edamaruku

Between 2004 and 2014, in ten years, Indonesia convicted 125 people of blasphemy. Another 23 people were convicted of blasphemy since 2014. With the new app in the Google Play store, more people may be prosecuted and convicted under the country's blasphemy law.

Indonesia has recently introduced a new smartphone app to encourage reporting of religious ideas, unrecognized religions or unofficial interpretations of a recognized faith. All these and the non-adherence to a recognized religion as well as atheism come under the draconian blasphemy law in Indonesia.

The new Smart Pakem app is free to be downloaded on Google Play Store. The app was created by the Jakarta Prosecutor’s Office.

The Indonesian authorities are clear about their objective. Nirwan Nawawi, a spokesperson of the prosecutor's office, explained to AFP that the app will "provide easier access to information about the spread of beliefs" in Indonesia.

The controversial Indonesian blasphemy app lists religious edicts and blacklisted organizations with provision to complain violations instantly. Complainants against blasphemy, earlier, had to give a written accusation to a government office.

This new Indonesian smartphone app is a direct challenge to freedom of conscience and Free Speech. It's shocking that such an oppressive app is available on Google Play Store.

Indonesia's Criminal Code's Article 156(a) prohibits blasphemy. The penalty for blasphemers is a maximum of five years' imprisonment. The Code targets "those who express feelings of hostility, hatred, or contempt against religions with the purpose of preventing others from adhering to any religion", and "those who disgrace a religion".

Between 2004 and 2014, the number of people convicted of blasphemy in Indonesia is 125. Another 23 have been convicted since 2014. It is likely that more people in Indonesia would be prosecuted and convicted with the aid of the new Smart Pakem app under the country's blasphemy law.

"Secular state" where atheism is a crime!

While Indonesia is officially a secular state, it is a crime to be an atheist there. Indonesia's Constitution (Article 29) stipulates "the state is based on the belief in the one supreme God."

Indonesian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion only to the practitioners of seven official religions. They are Islam, Protestant Christianity, Roman-Catholic Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the Bahá'í Faith.

The official status of these six religions was accorded by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in January 2006. The House of Representatives passed a new civil registration bill on 9 December 2006, requiring citizens to identify themselves on government ID cards as a member of one of the six religions.

There are presidential decrees and ministerial directives that prohibit blasphemy.

Blasphemy law

Article 156(a), the blasphemy law, is the complement to a decree enacted by President Sukarno and implemented by President Suharto, namely, Presidential Decree No. 1/PNPS/1965 on the Prevention of Blasphemy and Abuse of Religions. Article 1 of the decree prohibits the "deviant interpretation" of religious teachings, and mandates the President to dissolve any organization practicing "deviant teachings".

Human Rights groups in Indonesia have been trying since long to change the oppressive blasphemy laws. In October 2009, a group of petitioners requested that Indonesia's Constitutional Court review the 1965 Law on Blasphemy. The Court on 19 April 2010 announced its refusal to make the review.

Atheism and non-adherence to any religion were respected in Indonesia till the end of last century.

Religions in Indonesia

The first known groups who introduced their faith in Indonesia were the traders from India. They introduced Hinduism of Shaivite tradition and Buddhism in Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi in the 2nd and the 4th century. By the fifth century, these religions have grown and developed. Kutai, Srivijaya, Majapahit, and Sailendra kingdoms were influenced by these faiths.

Borobudur, the world's largest Buddhist monument, was built by the Kingdom of Sailendra. Around the same time, the Hindu monument Prambanan was also built. The peak of Hindu-Javanese civilisation was the Majapahit Empire in the fourteenth century.

Traders from Gujarat introduced Islam in Indonesia in the thirteenth and the fourteenth century. It developed in the west coast of Sumatra and spread to the east in Java. With the Muslim influence, four kingdoms were established around this time - Pajang, Banten, Demak, and Mataram. During the next century, Islam became a dominant force in Indonesia having nearly 20 Islam-based kingdoms.

Catholicism was introduced to Indonesia by the Portuguese traders in the early sixteenth century. Dutch and British traders followed. The Dutch introduced Calvinist and Lutheran influences.

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) became the dominant European power in Indonesia in the early seventeenth century. During the Second World War the Dutch lost control and in August 1945, Sukarno, an influential nationalist leader, declared independence and was appointed the president. After some fights, the Netherlands formally recognized Indonesian independence in December 1949.

Military domination, political Islam and official religions

Following a controversial attempted coup d'état in 1965, there were large-scale killings and civil unrest in Indonesia over several months, targeting ethnic Chinese, communist sympathisers, and alleged leftists, often at the instigation of the armed forces and the government. The most widely published estimates were that 500,000 to more than one million people were killed. This led to the fall of President Sukarno and the commencement of Suharto's three-decade authoritarian presidency. This began a period of domination of military and political Islam in Indonesia. Thus began to a period of "official religions" and forcing the citizens to choose one of these official religions.

The New Order that followed adopted a policy that everyone must choose a religion. Every Indonesian citizen was required to carry personal identification cards indicating their religion. The policy resulted in mass religious conversions, topped by conversions to Protestantism and Catholicism. Indonesians with Chinese ethnicity were mostly Confucianists. As Confucianism was not one of the state recognized religions, many Chinese Indonesians converted to Christianity.

In the 2010 Indonesian census, 87.18% of Indonesians identified themselves as Muslim (with Sunnis more than 99%, Shias 0.5%, Ahmadis 0.2%[13]), 7% Protestant Christian, 2.91% Catholic Christian, 1.69% Hindu, 0.72% Buddhist, 0.05% Confucianist, 0.13% other, and 0.38% unstated or not asked.

Repeal the blasphemy law

As Indonesia does not recognize atheism, and blasphemy is illegal, atheists and unrecognized religious minorities are facing the risk of legal action and attacks by religious zealots.

Indonesia's blasphemy law is a tool of repression. It should be repealed. Freedom of conscience and Free Speech are in jeopardy under this law.

Pancasila is the official, foundational philosophical theory of the Indonesian state. Pancasila comprises two Old Javanese words originally derived from Sanskrit: "pañca" ("five") and "sīla" ("principles"). The first principle - Belief in the One and Only God (in Indonesian "Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa") is oppressive and intolerant. It clearly discriminates atheists and all those who do not believe in the officially recognized religions and their faiths.

It is time that Indonesia repeals the blasphemy law and recognizes freedom of conscience, Free Speech and freedom of expression.

Appeal to Google

The mission statement of Google says: "To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful." The blasphemy app of Indonesia is directly against the democratic ideals which Google says it stands for. It is therefore important that Google removes the dangerous blasphemy app from the Play Store.


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