By Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - A senior Indonesian expert has condemned authorities for removing a mobile phone application that enabled an Indonesian ethnic group to read the Bible in their language.
Hariyono, the deputy head of the Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education, said the decision undermined the Minangkabau people's rights. "Every individual is given the freedom to observe their beliefs as long as they do not disrupt the public," added Hariyono, who only uses one name.
Minangkabau people, also known as Minang, are native to the Minangkabau Highlands in West Sumatra province. The governor wants to limit access to the Bible, Hariyono noted. "And, of course, some of the residents of West Sumatra are also Christian, and the governor himself is the governor to everyone, not a certain ethnicity or religious belief."
In the statement distributed by the Barnabas Fund advocacy group and obtained by Worthy News, the expert added: "Holy books could be translated into any language" as long as they were not misinterpreted.
His remarks came after West Sumatra Governor Irwan Prayitno complained about the Bible app to Indonesia's Information Minister Johnny Gerard Plate late last month.
In an open letter to the minister, he asked the ministry to remove the application called 'Kitab Suci Injil Minangkabau' ('The Bible in Minangkabau Language') from the Google Play Store digital distribution service.
Prayitno said, "the people of Minangkabau", who are mainly Muslim, "object to and feel very uncomfortable with the application," and that "undermines" Minangkabau culture. He also suggested preventing the distribution of other Bible applications.
However, expert Hariyono suggested that the anti-Bible policy violates "Pancasila", Indonesia's foundation philosophy, after which his institute was named. Pancasila includes the five pillars "Belief in The One and Only God, A just and civilized humanity, Unity of Indonesia; Democracy led by Inner Wisdom in consultation/representation and Social justice for the entire people of Indonesia."
However, Indonesia's top Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), praised the Communication and Information Ministry for removing the Bible app. "The guidance of the Minangkabau people is not the Bible," stressed MUI secretary-general Anwar Abbas. "Hopefully, there will not be a Bible [published] in the Minangkabau language," he added in published remarks.
More than 69,000 West Sumatra residents – or 1.43 percent – are Christian, according to official estimates. However, several evangelical leaders, including former Muslims, have told Worthy News the real figure is much higher.
The tensions over digital access to the Scriptures come while Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population, saw a rise in "hard-line Islamic ideology" in recent years, commented Barnabas Fund, the advocacy group.
"A generation ago, Muslims and Christians lived peaceably [in the area] as equals by the Pancasila" philosophy, Barnabas Fund claimed.
Last year, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo reportedly took steps to counter the spread of Islamic extremism.
His government urged the public to report extremist content posted online by civil servants. It also pledged taking action to replace school textbooks deemed to contain radical material, recalled Barnabas Fund.