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Indonesia introduces new power to ban mass organisations that threaten unity

Sydney Morning Herald - July 12, 2017

Jewel Topsfield and Karuni Rompies, Jakarta Indonesia has introduced new powers enabling the government to ban mass organisations considered to threaten the unity of the country without going through the courts.

The new regulation paves the way for a ban on hardline Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which promotes a global caliphate governed by sharia.

The government announced plans in May to disband HTI, arguing its activities violated the principles of Pancasila, Indonesia's pluralist state ideology, and the 1945 Constitution.

However under the existing law this was an onerous process that could take up to four years. The 2013 law on mass organisations required three warnings before the decision to dissolve an organisation was made by a court.

Chief Security Minister Wiranto said on Wednesday there were some mass organisations in Indonesia that posed a clear threat to the nation.

He said the new government regulation gave the ministries of Law and Human Rights and Home Affairs the authority to revoke the permits of mass organisations it found to be against Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution.

"This is not meant to limit freedom of assembly, it is merely aimed at maintaining unity and safeguarding the nation's existence," Mr Wiranto said. "It is not an arbitrary act of government."

Mr Wiranto said the regulation was not intended to discredit Islamic mass organisations. It is effective immediately but will be presented to parliament within six months, where it could either be overruled or passed into law.

HTI spokesman Ismail Yusanto told Fairfax Media the organisation was still discussing the new regulation.

A ban on Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia has the support of many Muslim organisations 14 of them, including the country's largest, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), issued a statement on July 7 declaring the movement a national security threat.

However many other rights activists argue a ban would be a violation of freedom of association and a throwback to the authoritarian Suharto regime, which used a government decree to ban the Indonesian Communist Party, or PKI, in 1966.

Hizbut Tahrir, which was founded in 1953 in Jerusalem as a Sunni Muslim organisation, rejects democracy and the nation state but does not advocate violence to achieve its ends.

It is banned in countries including Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, China and much of the Middle East, but is largely tolerated in the West, except for Germany, where it is barred from public activities.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott flagged cracking down on Hizbut Tahrir in Australia, saying there was "no place in our community for organisations or individuals who nurture extremism, propagate hatred and radicalise young Australians".

The push to ban it in Australia intensified in 2014 after spokesman Wassim Doureihi refused to directly condemn the acts of Islamic State during an interview on the ABC's Lateline.

Former Australian Army military intelligence officer Clive Williams, now an academic, has said he doubts proscribing Hizbut Tahrir in Australia would achieve any desirable or useful purpose.

He wrote in Fairfax Media in 2014 that a ban would add weight to Hizbut Tahrir's supporters' claims that Muslim views that are not acceptable to mainstream Australian opinion are not tolerated and it could drive the organisation underground.

In Indonesia, the organisation played a large role in the massive blasphemy protests in Jakarta against the capital's then governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok.

Some analysts interpret the crackdown as part of a push back against ultra-conservative Islamic groups ahead of the 2019 elections.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo told chief editors at the State Palace in May that he would "gebuk" [clobber] any group that sought to replace Pancasila and the Constitution.

The general secretary of the Supreme Council of NU, Yahya Cholil Staquf, said HTI should never have been given legal status under the former government.

"HTI has an agenda against the Constitution, it wants to replace the Constitution," he told Fairfax Media. "HTI is anti-Pancasila, it is anti-Indonesia and so forth. It is just not right to give it legal status in Indonesia."

But Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono said banning any organisation strictly on ideological grounds was a "draconian action". He said it undermined rights of freedom of association and expression that Indonesians had fought hard to establish since the Suharto dictatorship.

"The Indonesian government is empowered to take appropriate legal action against any group, including Hizbut Tahrir, that is suspected of violating the law," Mr Harsono said.

Hizbut Tahrir came to Indonesia in the 1980s when its head in Australia, Abdurrahman al-Baghdadi, moved to Bogor, a city near Jakarta.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/indonesia-introduces-new-power-to-ban-mass-organisations-that-threaten-unity-20170712-gx9sp8.html.

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