Indonesia’s president has signed a decree (called Perppu) that gives the government the power to ban radical Islamist organizations. According to analysts, the move aims to ban the groups that in recent months have caused a sharp rise in the political weight of extreme Islam.
The measure, announced today by the security minister, follows months of sectarian tensions in the most populous Muslim nation in the world. They have shaken the government and undermined its reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam.
The approved measure modifies an existing law that governs mass organizations, allowing the government to avoid a long process for enforcing the ban. Analysts say Hizbut Tahir Indonesia (HTI), a group that promotes the adoption of sharia and the establishment of a caliphate in Indonesia, is among the goals of the decree.
Last May, the government had announced the ban on the group. 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 Pancasila’s values [political doctrine, foundation of the Indonesian State], which promotes diversity and pluralism. Wiranto, the coordinating minister, says the resolution seeks to protect the unity and the coexistence of Indonesia as a nation, and not to discredit Islamic groups. The minister announced that the decree was signed by President Joko Widodo on 10 July.
The decision to ban the HTI was taken by the government following the rise sectarianism in during the elections for the Jakarta Governorate, which saw the Chinese-born Christian Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama defy the former Minister of Culture and Education Anies Baswedan. HTI, along with other radical groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (Idf), is behind the numerous and violent mass protests against then-governor of the city, Widod’s ally. They marked the months of the electoral campaign, fueling controversy and tension throughout the country.
Ahok’s re-election was also hindered by an infamous allegation of blasphemy, which, according to analysts, has influenced the outcome of the electoral turnout. Surprisingly, the Christian candidate lost to his rival and was sentenced to two years in prison, despite prosecutors requesting a milder penalty for the judges as he was not guilty of the offense involved. Following the controversial verdict, Indonesian civil society reacted with spontaneous demonstrations of support for Ahok, who has become a symbol of democracy and good governance.
Hizbut, a global organization, is believed to have tens of thousands of members in Indonesia. If HTI were dissolved, it would be the first Islamic body to be banned since the fall of the New Order’s authoritarian regime in 1998. During the three decades of the regime, President Soeharto banned numerous Islamic organizations whose activities and ideas were considered a threat to Pancasila.