(Vatican Radio) Indonesia's president has issued a decree giving the government the power to ban radical organizations, in a move aimed at outlawing groups which have caused a sharp rise in the political weight of extremist 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 practicing a moderate form of Islam.
It amends an existing law regulating mass organizations, allowing the government to sidestep a potentially lengthy court process to implement a ban. Analysts say it is aimed at groups such as the Hizbut Tahir Indonesia (HTI), that promotes the adoption of sharia and the establishment of a caliphate in Indonesia, similar to the Islamic State (IS). However, Wiranto, the coordinating minister for politics, security and law, explained that the decree signed by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Monday, is aimed at protecting the unity and existence of Indonesia as a nation and not at discrediting Islamic groups.
The move has support from a largely moderate Indonesian society. "Both the government and society see activities organized by radical groups, including HTI, are clearly against the national ideology," said Father Guido Suprapto, executive secretary of the Commission for the Laity of the Indonesian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (KWI). He believed that the government should have the authority to ban any radical group. "Of course, one thing to consider is how dangerous a radical group is," he told UCANEWS.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has however 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 organization. Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the government's decision to ban HTI "constitutes a troubling violation of universal rights of freedom of association and expression."
HTI along with groups such as the violent Islamic Defenders Front, was behind months of massive protests in Jakarta, the capital, against the city's ethnic Chinese minority Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja "Ahok" Purnama who re-election campaign was marred by fierce protests against an allegation he blasphemed Islam. He subsequently failed to be re-elected and was handed a 2-year prison sentence for blasphemy. Hizbut, a global organization, is estimated to have tens of thousands of members in Indonesia.
Last May, the government had announced the ban on HTI. At the beginning of March, the Ministry for the Coordination of Political, Legal and Security Affairs announced that the government would prevent HTI from operating in the country, as its political vision contradicts the spirit of Pancasila, the 5-principle state ideology that is the foundation of the Indonesian society which promotes diversity, pluralism and tolerance among the nation’s ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic groups. The official national motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, or “unity in diversity”, is based on Pancasila.
Despite being the world most populous Muslim state, Indonesia has a secular constitution that guarantees freedom of religion. The government recognizes only six official religions - Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. With an estimated population of 258 million, Indonesia is also the fourth most populous nation in the world. More than 85% of its population is Muslim, with Christians forming nearly 13%. Catholics make up some 3.5%.