HAVING expressed his intention to ban Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Tuesday signed a decree to grant the Indonesian government power to disband any group it deems to oppose national unity and security.
The country’s justice minister Wiranto on Wednesday confirmed the release of the presidential decree, saying that existing legislation was too weak to combat extremist groups that work to undermine the Indonesian state.
The government announced its intention to ban HTI back in May – a group which endorses a transnational Islamic caliphate in place of Indonesia’s pluralistic democracy – however under existing laws it would likely require a lengthy and difficult process in the courts.
Under the new decree, “the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights will have the authority to revoke or cancel the permit to form organisations that are against Pancasila,” said Wiranto on Wednesday, as quoted by Kompas.
Wiranto said that the already-controversial 2013 Law on Mass Organisations was inadequate for the government’s efforts to tackle extremist groups and protect Pancasila – Indonesia’s pluralistic state ideology that enshrines religious diversity and democracy.
“[The decree] does not, however, threaten freedom of assembly or expression,” he added.
The move was made after calls by 14 Muslim organisations including Indonesia’s largest – the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – last week called upon the government to issue the decree to ban HTI.
Mainstream Islamic groups in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation have struggled to exert significant influence over political debates in recent years as previously fringe radical groups gain prominence in the public sphere.
HTI’s supporters were among the hardliners who rallied against Jakarta’s Christian former governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for allegedly insulting Islam, which culminated in electoral defeat in April and being imprisoned for blasphemy in May.
The group is already banned in most Muslim-majority countries, however since 1998 has operated freely within Indonesia’s democratic system. Unlike other Indonesian Islamist groups including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), HTI explicitly opposes democracy and the Indonesian nation.
Unlike Islamic State supporters, however, the organisation advocates a “three step”, non-violent path and to overthrow democracy from within – particularly through infiltrating politics and the bureaucracy.
In fact, a recent study by Jakarta-based pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting found that 9.2 percent of Indonesians – roughly 20 million people – say they support replacing Indonesia’s democratic system with an international Islamic caliphate.
The banning of HTI is a rare move – the only existing precedent is when former dictator Suharto banned the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1966.
Since twin explosions rocked Jakarta in May killing, however, Jokowi has stepped up his rhetoric against extremism, threatening to “clobber” groups who threaten national security.
Indonesia’s 2013 so-called “NGO Law” was criticised by rights groups, labour unions and environmentalists for granting the government the ability to screen any non-governmental organisation.
The government then claimed the law was to empower local organisations and counter “foreign intervention”, by requiring international NGOs to obtain a special permit to operate in Indonesia from both the Foreign Affairs Ministry and State Security Agency.
“The Indonesian government is empowered to take appropriate legal action against any group, including Hizbut Tahrir, that is suspected of violating the law,” said Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch in a statement provided to Asian Correspondent.
“But banning any organisation strictly on ideological grounds, including Pancasila, is a draconian action that undermines rights of freedom of association and expression that Indonesians have fought hard to establish since the Suharto dictatorship.”
The director of the Institute for the Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) Sidney Jones recently told the podcast Indonesia at Melbourne that moves to ban HTI would simply push them underground, further radicalising certain elements and making intervention from authorities more difficult.
The group is estimated to have around 40,000 card-carrying members in Indonesia, while its support base is perhaps around 200,000 people across the archipelago, said Jones.
Bahrun Naim, the most infamous Indonesian IS fighter in Syria who is believed to have masterminded last year’s January attacks in Jakarta, was formerly a member of HTI before joining the violent struggle with IS.
“The Indonesian government’s decision to ban Hizbut Tahrir constitutes a troubling violation of universal rights of freedom of association and expression,” added Harsono.
“Placing a ban on an organisations should be a last resort, which the organisation should be able to contest in an independent court.”