In Indonesia, which has the world’s largest population of Muslims and a history of discriminating against atheists, the government has a unique approach to blasphemy: a free “heresy app” to encourage reports.
It’s not all that surprising that this would happen in Indonesia. As we reported earlier this year, some non-believers in the country have admitted to hiding their atheism out of fear of reprisal.
Perhaps that’s why the government needed to take additional steps to locate those who commit the so-called crime of blasphemy.
Users of the app can report groups practicing unrecognised faiths or unorthodox interpretations of Indonesia’s six officially recognised religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism.
“Smart Pakem”, which was launched Sunday and is available for free in the Google Play store, was created by the Jakarta Prosecutor’s Office, which said it would help educate the public and modernise the current reporting process.
The app will also list religious edicts and blacklisted organisations and will allow users to file complaints instantaneously, instead going through the often cumbersome process of submitting a written accusation to a government office.
“The objective… is to provide easier access to information about the spread of beliefs in Indonesia, to educate the public and to prevent them from following doctrines from an individual or a group that are not in line with the regulations,” Nirwan Nawawi, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, told AFP in a statement.
This app is in some dangerous territory. Policing beliefs in general is bad, but allowing the public to bring instant complaints is even worse. Making it easier to file such complaints will lead to more frivolous complaints, possible false ones, and an inability for the accused to truly fight back. There is no reason this law needs to exist and definitely no reason to help expedite the already unfair process with an app.
The sad part is that those who will be hurt most by this app, and by Indonesia’s continued enforcement of outdated heresy laws, are those who are already struggling to survive in a country that bans the practice of the faith they follow: religious minorities.
However, rights groups fear the application could be misused by increasingly powerful hardline Islamic groups and widen divisions in a country where harassment of religious and other minorities is not uncommon.
“This is going from bad to worse — another dangerous step to discriminate religious minorities in Indonesia,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, vice chairman of rights group Setara Institute, added: “This is dangerous because if mainstream society doesn’t like (a group) they’ll report them through the application — this will create problems.”
Hundreds of thousands of people across the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago who adhere to non-recognised animist and mystical faiths have long suffered discrimination and limited access to public services.
This is exactly why separation of Church and State is so important. If Indonesia were a truly secular country, practitioners of minority faiths — and atheists — wouldn’t become subjects of what will inevitably turn into a faith-based witch hunt.
(Image via Shutterstock)