Human rights activists expressed concern after the Indonesian government announced Monday its intention to begin efforts to disband Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), the local branch of an international organization that calls for uniting Muslims worldwide under an Islamic caliphate.
Registered as a civil society organization under Indonesia’s Home Ministry since 2006, HTI has been preaching in Indonesia for decades, and is thought to have about 2 million members.
“After looking carefully at several considerations and weighing the aspirations of the people, the government has to take firm steps to disband HTI,” Wiranto, the coordinating minister of Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, told a press conference Monday.
HTI has not played a positive role in Indonesia’s national development, he said. Its activities undermine the 1945 Constitution as well as Pancasila, the state philosophy emphasizing national unity and pluralism.
Human rights group said the move could infringe on constitutionally protected freedoms.
“The government needs to exercise restraint and be careful not to take repressive measures that could threaten the rights to freedom of association in Indonesia in the current era of democracy,” Wahyu Wagiman, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) said in a written statement to BenarNews on Monday.
National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) Commissioner Maneger Nasution said creating a stigma around criticism of the state or its philosophy was a “fascist way” of silencing political opponents.
“Only a court may decide whether a person or organization is guilty against Pancasila,” Nasution told BenarNews.
Wiranto said the process of disbanding HTI would follow a 2013 law that lays out a series of steps including issuance of a warning, cessation of activities and administrative sanctions.
“The government won’t act in an arbitrary manner, but will rely on applicable Indonesian law,” he said.
Government officials claim that HTI activities have created tensions that threaten security, order and unity.
Wiranto said the decision did not mean that the government was against Muslim organizations, but had been taken following President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s remarks about problematic civil society groups, and following extensive study of the matter and community input.
HTI spokesman Ismail Yusanto rejected the notion that his organization undermines Pancasila. He said HTI had never received a warning regarding the government’s plan to dismantle it.
In remarks at his office Monday night, he said his group’s mission was to convey the teachings of Islam as a solution to problems in the country, such as poverty, injustice and corruption.
“It is not right we are treated like this. It’s very despotic and based on false accusations,” Ismail said, adding that HTI would take the necessary steps to challenge the action.
“This government move must be stopped, because stopping da’wah (preaching of Islam) is not only against the law but also violates the rights of people to express their opinions. This is also against the teachings of Islam.”
But Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, welcomed the government initiative.
Ansor chairman Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, who is also a member of the House of Representatives, told BenarNews that HTI should be disbanded because it wants to replace Indonesia’s unitary state with an Islamic caliphate.
“It’s the same as dissolving Indonesia. Yet we are convinced it is not just Islam that helped found and liberate the country. Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and others also had a role,” Yaqut said.
“Of course we are against it,” Yaqut said, referring to HTI. “They intend to replace Pancasila with Islamic ideology. Whereas Pancasila has proven itself able to unite all the differences that exist in this archipelago.”