Following your own religious beliefs shouldn’t be a crime, but in Indonesia, new technologies are helping authorities identify and potentially prosecute religious minorities who follow “deviant teachings.”
On November 22, Bakor Pakem, a body charged with religious oversight in the Indonesia Attorney General’s office, launched an app that allows mobile device users to report individuals suspected of “religious heresy.”
The app, Smart Pakem, available in the Google Play store, is an extension of an official website and hotline service. They were all set up by Bakor Pakem ostensibly to “protect” Indonesia's six officially recognized religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism – and facilitate prosecutions under the blasphemy law.
The app lists several religious groups, including the Ahmadiyah, Shia, and Gafatar, names their leaders and Indonesian office addresses, and describes their “deviant teachings.” It risks inflaming tensions and increasing the potential for Islamists to abuse Indonesia’s increasingly besieged religious minorities.
Human Rights Watch has long documented the role of government officials and Islamist militant groups in cases of intimidation, humiliation, violence, and arbitrary detention of religious minorities.
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 Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama with blasphemy against Islam. Ahok lost his reelection and was sentenced to two years in prison 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.” Indonesia needs leaders who have the moral courage to revoke the toxic blasphemy law and dissolve Bakor Pakem.