Indonesia’s government on Wednesday unveiled a controversial executive decree designed to make it easier for authorities to break up civil society groups seen as fomenting discord and threatening the state, officials said.
The decree comes after the government announced two months ago that it would shut down the domestic branch of Hizbut Tahrir, an organization calling for Muslims worldwide to unite under an Islamic caliphate and to establish Sharia law in Indonesia.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo signed off Monday on the decree, which temporarily replaces a 2013 law regulating non-governmental organizations. The decree will allow the government to bypass a lengthy court process earlier required to disband NGOs.
“The 2013 law is outdated and does not accommodate measures required to prevent the proliferation of ideology that contradicts our state ideology Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution,” Wiranto, the nation’s minister for law, politics and security affairs, told a news conference in Jakarta on Wednesday.
The new decree doesn’t identify any organization by name, but it prohibits organizations from committing blasphemy against any faith or using religion to incite hatred based on race, religious affiliation, or ethnicity.
It also forbids organizations from fanning divisions that threaten the nation’s sovereignty. Violating any of the decree’s articles is punishable by prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years, according to a copy seen by BenarNews.
The measure follows recent religious tensions fanned by hardline groups that have tested Indonesia’s tradition of moderate Islam and “unity in diversity” – the motto of the multi-religious nation.
“This regulation is not intended to discredit Islamic mass organizations, given that Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country, or to limit freedom of expression, assembly, and free speech,” said Wiranto, a retired army general and former chief of the Indonesian armed forces.
The new measure goes into effect immediately but requires a two-thirds vote in parliament to replace the existing law permanently.
Going after HTI
In May, the Indonesian government announced its intention to begin efforts to disband Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI). Registered as an NGO under Indonesia’s Home Ministry since 2006, HTI has been preaching in Indonesia for decades, and is thought to have about 2 million members.
In recent months, HTI was among hardline Muslim groups that spearheaded massive street demonstrations calling for the arrest and removal from office of Jakarta’s governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, over allegations that he had uttered blasphemous, anti-Islam words in a speech last year.
Ahok, a member of Indonesia’s tiny Christian and ethnic Chinese minorities, has since been convicted and imprisoned on related charges and he was defeated in a gubernatorial election in April.
HTI repeatedly has said that its activities do not contradict Pancasila or espouse violence.
“This is clear evidence of injustice and tyranny by the government, and it will make people increasingly view the regime as anti-Islam,” HTI spokesman Ismail Yusanto told BenarNews, referring to the new government regulation.
He said his organization might call for a judicial review of the move, because powers to override existing laws can only be invoked in emergency situations.
The government was specifically targeting HTI in trying to change a law that purposely made dissolving organizations difficult to avoid abuse of power, he said.
“The government knows that banning an organization is difficult under existing law, so they are publishing this new regulation. The government should give a better example to society of how to be law abiding.”
‘Our country could be destroyed’
In a July 7 press conference, 14 Islamic organizations had urged the government to issue the new regulation as the legal basis for dissolving “radical and anti-Pancasila mass organizations such as HTI and others.”
If left unchecked, such organizations could grow and threaten pluralism in Indonesia, becoming accepted by society, according to Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of the board of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization.
“You can imagine, our country could be destroyed like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and others,” he said.
While HTI and other organizations thought to oppose Pancasila do not commit violence, their ideology is permeating society and threatening Indonesia’s political system, he added.
“It is unlikely that mass organizations who do not believe in the Unitary Republic of Indonesia and want to replace it with other systems will be able to carry out their obligations to participate in achieving the goals … stated in the preamble of the 1945 Constitution,” Aqil said.
Human rights advocates, meanwhile, expressed concern about the government’s move.
It could be viewed as a selective silencing of government critics, said Rida Hesti Ratnasari, a researcher on HTI from the Community of Ideological Islamic Analysts (CIIA).
She said the government should be prepared to provide “guidance” for members of the organization if it is dissolved.
“If there is no guidance, they may become out of control and it will be hard to track what happens to them … they may exist as an organization that is not registered but still has the same beliefs,” she told BenarNews.
Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, called the plan to disband HTI politically inept and said it “left Indonesia more religiously polarized than ever,” according to the Jakarta Post.
If the HTI is dissolved, it would be the first Islamic organization to be banned since the three-decade rule of President Suharto era, who banned Islamic groups deemed as threatening to Pancasila, the Post noted.
The move could stifle Indonesia’s fragile and young democracy, said Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based reasearcher for Human Rights Watch.
“Banning any organization strictly on ideological grounds … is a draconian action that undermines rights of freedom of association and expression that Indonesians have fought hard to establish since the Suharto dictatorship,” Harsono said, according to the Associated Press.