Announced Wednesday, the newly revised law is the latest shot in the ongoing war between Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s administration and the hardline Islamic groups which have plagued his presidency in recent years.
“There is a logic in it for Widodo, for this government … but this is like using a cannon to shoot sparrows, it is like burning a barn just to catch some mice. It is just overkill,” Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono told CNN.
“We will have legal support to act whenever there are mass organizations that are clearly endangering the country’s ideology by contradicting it,” Indonesian Minister for Politics, Security and Law, Wiranto, said at a press conference Wednesday, adding the previous law was no longer “sufficient.” Wiranto only goes by one name.
Right groups expressed concern the new laws could be used to target a far wider range of religious and minority groups, not just at a federal level but in provinces and cities.
“This law is a dangerous law … it is of course a breach of the right to freedom of assembly, it is a breach of freedom of speech and freedom of thought,” said Harsono.
Widodo vs conservative Islam
The new law is widely considered to be the first step in the government’s plans to ban conservative Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir in Indonesia.
Harsono estimated Hizbut Tahrir have about 40,000 members in Indonesia, who have called for change through non-violent means.
The actual process of banning an organization has been streamlined dramatically, University of New South Wales senior lecturer Melissa Crouch told CNN.
“The original law contained a number of stages in the warning process and involved seeking the permission of the courts. These (18 provisions) have now all been deleted,” she said.
Crouch said the new legislation centralized power with the minister responsible and cancellation could occur as soon as the offense was registered.
“Instead of asking a group that breaches the law from ceasing activities for a time, the amendment now says they must cease their activities immediately, no allowances given.”
Rights organizations condemn ban
But the law’s vague wording and the inclusion of references to separatist and “Marxist” groups mean it could be used against religious minorities and advocates for Papuan independence, human rights groups said.
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty called for the law to be revised or removed.
“There’s certainly concerns that should be raised in terms of the way the government is going about this and the potential implications it might have … it will give (Hizbut Tahrir) more publicity and a reason to continue promoting their cause in one sense,” Crouch said.
Harsono said the law could be challenged in Indonesia’s Constitutional Court or revised in parliament but that could take “years.”