Indonesia’s president has signed a decree giving the government the power to ban radical organisations, in a move aimed at outlawing groups behind an apparent rise in the political clout of hardline Islam.
The measure announced on Wednesday by the country’s top security minister follows months of sectarian tensions in the world’s most populous Muslim nation that shook the government and undermined its reputation for practising a moderate form of Islam.
It amends an existing law regulating mass organisations, allowing the government to sidestep a potentially long court process to implement a ban. It is likely that Hizbut Tahir, a group that campaigns for Indonesia to adopt sharia law and become a caliphate, is among the targets of the decree after the government announced in May that it planned to ban the group.
Wiranto, the coordinating minister for politics, security and law, said the decree is aimed at protecting the unity and existence of Indonesia as a nation, and not at discrediting Islamic groups. Wiranto said the decree was signed by President Joko Widodo on Monday.
New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the move, calling it a “troubling violation” of the rights to freedom of association and expression despite it being supported by moderate groups such as Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation.
Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, Andreas Harsono, said the government already has the power to take legal action against any group suspected of violating the law.
“Banning any organisation 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,” Harsono said.
Hizbut Tahir, along with groups such as the violent Islamic Defenders Front, was behind months of massive protests in Jakarta, the capital, against the city’s minority Christian governor, an ally of Widodo who was accused of blaspheming Islam.
He subsequently lost a bid for re-election to a Muslim candidate and was imprisoned for two years for blasphemy despite prosecutors downgrading the charge to a lesser offence.
Hizbut, a global organisation, is estimated to have tens of thousands of members in Indonesia.