Does Panchsila work in today’s Indonesia? by Farahnaz Ispahani

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.”

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 by.

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.


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

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 Pancasilaor the Five Principles, the Indonesian state philosophy, formulated by the Indonesian nationalist leader Sukarno as the best defence. The Panasila 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 Indonesia.

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 protected fully.

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.

The author is a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for scholars, author and former member of the Pakistani parliament

Published in Daily Times, December 31st 2018 and link to the article is https://dailytimes.com.pk/338985/does-panchsila-work-in-todays-indonesia/

Written by Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. She is the author of the recently published book "Purifying the Land of the Pure: The History of Pakistan's Religious Minorities. Oxford University Press, 2017. Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani has been a leading voice for women and religious minorities in Pakistan for the past twenty five years, first as a journalist, then as a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and most recently as a scholar based in the United States. An advocate of Pakistan’s return to democracy during the military regime of Pervez Musharraf, she served as a spokesperson and international media coordinator for the Pakistan People’s Party, working alongside the late Benazir Bhutto. During her tenure in parliament (2008–2012), she was a member of the Human Rights Committee and the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. In 2013–2014, she served as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she completed a book on the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. In 2012, she was listed among Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, as well as Newsweek Pakistan’s Top 100 Women Who Matter. During her fellowship, Ms. Ispahani is exploring women’s political participation in the Muslim world, both in terms of their progress toward gender equality under democratic systems and the converse rise of women as agents of extremist propaganda within the world of the Islamic State. FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI is Senior Fellow, South and South East Asia Action Team at Religious Freedom Institute also.

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