'A cannon to shoot sparrows': New Indonesian anti-Islamist law slammed
Posted July 13
An Indonesian government decree that allows the country's president to disband religious and civil society organizations without a right of appeal has been condemned by human rights organizations.
Announced Wednesday, the newly revised law is the latest shot in the ongoing war between Indonesian President Joko Widodo's administration and the hardline Islamic groups which have plagued his presidency in recent years.
"There is a logic in it for Widodo, for this government ... but this is like using a cannon to shoot sparrows, it is like burning a barn just to catch some mice. It is just overkill," Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono told CNN.
The new decree, which revises a previous law from 2013, removes the need for court approval when disbanding an organization, and introduces criminal penalties for disobeying the law, including long periods in prison, according to local media.
"We will have legal support to act whenever there are mass organizations that are clearly endangering the country's ideology by contradicting it," Indonesian Minister for Politics, Security and Law, Wiranto, said at a press conference Wednesday, adding the previous law was no longer "sufficient." Wiranto only goes by one name.
Right groups expressed concern the new laws could be used to target a far wider range of religious and minority groups, not just at a federal level but in provinces and cities.
"This law is a dangerous law ... it is of course a breach of the right to freedom of assembly, it is a breach of freedom of speech and freedom of thought," said Harsono.
Widodo vs conservative Islam
The new law is widely considered to be the first step in the government's plans to ban conservative Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir in Indonesia.
Hizbut Tahrir is an international Islamic organization which supports a global caliphate run in accordance with Shariah law. The group has been banned in more than a dozen countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China and Russia.
Harsono estimated Hizbut Tahrir have about 40,000 members in Indonesia, who have called for change through non-violent means.
Conservative groups such as Hizbut Tahrir have been a thorn in the side of democratically elected Widodo -- who supports religious pluralism -- holding mass demonstrations against religious minorities, LGBT people and anyone they perceive to have blasphemed Islam.
They were among those calling for the imprisonment of Jakarta governor and Widodo ally Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, who was sentenced to two years prison for blasphemy.
In May, Minister Wiranto announced a move to ban the group, according to local media, while Widodo said other organizations were also being considered for a potential ban.
The actual process of banning an organization has been streamlined dramatically, University of New South Wales senior lecturer Melissa Crouch told CNN.
"The original law contained a number of stages in the warning process and involved seeking the permission of the courts. These (18 provisions) have now all been deleted," she said.
Crouch said the new legislation centralized power with the minister responsible and cancellation could occur as soon as the offense was registered.
"Instead of asking a group that breaches the law from ceasing activities for a time, the amendment now says they must cease their activities immediately, no allowances given."
Rights organizations condemn ban
The decree allows for the banning of groups which go against Indonesia's founding principles of Pancasila, which calls for religious tolerance and diversity, according to Wiranto.
But the law's vague wording and the inclusion of references to separatist and "Marxist" groups mean it could be used against religious minorities and advocates for Papuan independence, human rights groups said.
"Peaceful political activism (by independence groups) is already severely restricted and hundreds of people have been arrested and imprisoned for such activities," Amnesty International said in a report.
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty called for the law to be revised or removed.
"There's certainly concerns that should be raised in terms of the way the government is going about this and the potential implications it might have ... it will give (Hizbut Tahrir) more publicity and a reason to continue promoting their cause in one sense," Crouch said.
Harsono said the law could be challenged in Indonesia's Constitutional Court or revised in parliament but that could take "years."