Google likes to portray itself as a neutral arbiter of information, but there is overwhelming evidence to suggest the massive corporation holds political biases.
Now, there appears to be evidence that Google holds — or at least accedes to — religious biases as well.
In November, The Independent reported on the launch of a new mobile app in the Muslim-majority nation of Indonesia. Known as “Smart Pakem,” the app reportedly allows users to report individuals to Indonesian authorities for holding or espouse “misguided” religious beliefs, which could be deemed as “heresy” or “blasphemy.”
Indonesia has strict blasphemy laws that prohibit individuals from openly expressing religious beliefs outside of the government-approved dogma of state-approved religions, despite the nation’s Constitutional Court decision in 2017 to affirm the right of individuals to hold beliefs outside of the approved religions in 2017. Conviction under the blasphemy law can result in up to five years in prison.
According to Human Rights Watch, although he blasphemy law was initially used quite sparingly, there was a surge of about 125 convictions between 2004 and 2014, with an additional 23 convictions in the years since then, including six so far in 2018 alone.
Launched in coordination with the Jakarta Prosecutor’s Office, the app lists several “deviant” minority sects of Islam and other religions, and allows for members of the public to report to authorities any individual or organization that may be deemed “harmful” to the public by virtue of their beliefs. A spokesman for the office said the app was intended to “educate people” and “increase transparency” on the process of reporting religious beliefs that could be considered a “threat” to the community.
Human rights groups have cried foul over the app — which is available for free in Google’s Play Store — including Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights. That group’s commissioner, Amiruddin Al-Rahab, warned the app could have “dangerous consequence by causing social disintegration” and cautioned, “When neighbors are reporting each other, that would be problematic.”
Al-Rahab further noted that the app wasn’t yet fully operational, and wondered whether authorities would issue any sort of official guidance on the use of the app. “Don’t leave the people in confusion, if people are confused they will take matters into their own hands,” he said.
Al-Rahab’s human rights group isn’t alone in speaking out against the app. The National Secular Society recently sent a letter to Google which implored them to remove the app from the Google Play Store.
The letter was sent from NSS chief executive Stephen Evans to Google’s Vice President in southeast Asia, Rajan Anandan, to warn him that the app would not only aid the Indonesian government in cracking down on religious minorities and freedom of religious expression, but would also “most likely” result in a substantial increase to the number of individuals prosecuted and convicted under the nation’s strict blasphemy laws.
Evans noted that Google’s own stated reason for existence was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” but pointed out that the Indonesian app was “incongruous with Google’s mission statement” and “runs directly contrary to the democratic ideals which Google says it stands for.” He added in the letter that Google’s continued offering of the app in its store would inevitably “normalize restrictions on freedom of expression in Indonesia and elsewhere.”
While the leftists at Human Rights Watch and secularists at the NSS seemed most concerned about the rights of minority Muslim sects or atheists, Patheos noted that one of the most high profile convictions under Indonesia’s blasphemy law was that of the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2017 after devout Islamists accused him of blasphemy against Islam.
This app could also be used to encourage religious extremists to form vigilante mobs and exact their own perverted form of “justice” on those reported for alleged blasphemy.
Indeed, the app could lead to those accused of blasphemy being forced to abandon their homes, family and friends to hide out in fear of their lives from such vigilante mobs, as is currently the case for Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan, which has similar blasphemy laws as Indonesia.
Google should withdraw this app from its store immediately, lest it be further evidence that the massive corporation has no problem with the persecution and oppression of certain minorities who espouse unpopular opinions.
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