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Indonesia: Radical Groups May Now Be Banned Without Court Decision

(July 19, 2017) On July 10, 2017, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo signed a decree that makes it possible to ban radical organizations without a court procedure. The measure was announced publicly on July 12 by Wiranto, the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Security, and Law.  (Stephen Wright, Indonesia’s President Signs Decree to Ban Radical Groups, JOURNAL STAR (July 12, 2017); Indonesia President Jokowi Inks Decree to Ban Radical Groups, CHANNEL NEWSASIA (July 12, 2017).) According to Wiranto, the decree is designed to protect the unity of Indonesia. (Wright, supra.)  He also said that there are groups “threatening the nation’s existence and creating conflict in the society,” but neither he nor the decree itself mentioned any group by name. (Indonesia President Jokowi Inks Decree to Ban Radical Groups, supra.)

The change is implemented through an amendment to the country’s law on mass organizations, which covers nongovernmental organizations and under which disbanding an organization would involve a lengthy process. (Wright, supra; Undang-Undang Republik Indonesia Nomor 17 Tahun 2013 Tentang Organisasi Kemasyarakatan [Law of the Republic of Indonesia Number 17, 2013, Concerning Mass Organizations] (July 22, 2013), Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat [House of Representatives] website.)

Under the revised legislation, a group can be disbanded without trial by the government if that group challenges the national philosophy of Pancasila, which promotes pluralism. Although predominantly Muslim, the Indonesian population includes Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists.  (Indonesia President Jokowi Inks Decree to Ban Radical Groups, supra.)  In addition, the decree makes it possible to ban organizations advocating atheism and communism.  (Id.)

Background

The change comes at a time of tension due in part to the actions of Islamic groups considered to be radical, such as the Islamic Defenders Front and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, which were involved in months of protests against the former Governor of Jakarta, a Christian. The Governor, who is considered to be an ally of the President of Indonesia, has been accused of blasphemy against Islam.  (Id.; Wright, supra.)  Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) calls the Islamic Defenders Front, or Front Pembela Islam, a domestic, Indonesian terrorist organization.  (Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front – FPI), TRAC (last visited July 12, 2017).) TRAC’s website states that it provides researchers in a number of fields with “content that provides comprehensive data and analysis for complex topics.” (About TRAC, TRAC website (last visited July 12, 2017).)

Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, allied with an international group of the same name, has been advocating the adoption of Shariah law and the establishment of a Muslim caliphate. That group is one of the likely future targets of the law; Indonesia announced several months ago that it plans to ban the organization.  (Indonesia President Jokowi Inks Decree to Ban Radical Groups, supra.)

Reaction to the Amended Law

The measure has support from the Commission for the Laity of the Indonesian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The Commission’s Executive Secretary, Father Guido Suprapto, stated that “[b]oth the government and society see activities organized by radical groups … are clearly against the national ideology.”   (Indonesia Issues Decree Against Radical Groups, VATICAN RADIO (July 12, 2017).)

Other organizations have expressed reservations about the measure. Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization based in New York, calls the decree a “troubling violation” of rights.  The organization’s Indonesia researcher, Andreas Harsono, stated “[b]anning 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.”  (Wright, supra.)  The head of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, Asfinawati, called the decree a “setback of Indonesia’s democracy.”  (Indonesia President Jokowi Inks Decree to Ban Radical Groups, supra.)  Wiranto countered that criticism and said that the decree is not designed to stifle nongovernmental organizations. (Id.)

Ismail Yusanto, a spokesman for Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, said the group will ask the Indonesian Constitutional Court to review the decree. He added, “[t]he move just shows an arbitrary action aimed at disbanding Hizbut Tahrir.”  (Id.)