Jakarta faces struggle to ban Islamist hardliners
Jakarta seeks to ban hardline group after former governor is jailed for blasphemy
Many Indonesians fear their moderate traditions are under siege after a hardline Islamist group successfully pushed for the jailing of Jakarta’s former governor, known as Ahok, on blasphemy charges. But now the government could struggle in its bid to ban Hizbut Tahrir. The conservative courts could block the move. It could also backfire, observers say, if group members embrace the violent tactics the organisation officially rejects.
The jailing for blasphemy this month of Jakarta’s former governor raised fears that the moderate traditions of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation were under siege.
Now the Indonesian government is fighting back with a drive to outlaw a hardline Muslim group linked to the mass protests against him.
“Hizbut Tahrir’s activities threaten the sovereignty of our nation,” security minister Wiranto said last week, arguing that the organisation’s goals of establishing an international caliphate were in conflict with the democratic ideals of Pancasila, Indonesia’s state ideology.
Many Indonesians have become spooked by the growing sway of hardline Islamist groups after they campaigned for the electoral defeat and imprisonment of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok.
Both the first ethnic Chinese and the first Christian to run the country’s capital, he was accused of insulting Islam by referring to a verse in the Koran during a campaign speech. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators joined rallies against him.
The anti-Ahok campaign was widely seen as a prelude to the next national election in 2019, when conservative and Islamist forces will seek to defeat Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s pluralist president who is popularly known as Jokowi and an Ahok ally.
The effort to ban the group is “part of a much bigger plan the palace has to limit the impact of this kind of Islamist mobilisation against Jokowi”, said Gregory Fealy of Australian National University.
Hizbut Tahrir, which has operations worldwide, seeks the non-violent establishment of a caliphate for all the world’s Muslims, which would be ruled according to Islamic law. It boasts tens of thousands of members in Indonesia, where it has operated for decades.
Many observers say the government may struggle to ban the group. Indone- sia’s conservative courts could block the decision, and even if they do not, approval would only come after a lengthy legal process. The move could also backfire, observers say, if members go underground and start embracing the violent tactics the organisation officially rejects.
“It looks like it was a hastily made decision,” Professor Fealy said. “There should have been a careful process to dissolve an organisation in a democracy.”
Some moderate Muslim organisations have signalled their support for the government’s move. The youth division of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest, has recently worked with the police to break up Hizbut Tahrir gatherings in cities around the archipelago.
“The government has to be firmer,” said Yaqut Cholil, the national leader of NU’s youth division, a 2m-strong group. Mr Cholil said if the ban proceeded, his organisation would help the police ensure that former members did not continue their activities in secret.
Mr Wiranto did not say whether the government intended to ban other hardline groups. However, an obvious contender would be the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which was at the forefront of the campaign to jail Ahok.
Habib Rizieq, the group’s leader, has spent the past few weeks overseas after being summoned by police for questioning about salacious messages he is accused of sending via a messaging app to a woman who is not his wife. But there has been no formal indication that police want to disband the group.
Ustadz Slamat, a spokesperson for the FPI, said on Tuesday that Mr Rizieq was due to return to Indonesia and turn himself in to the police.
“The FPI is useful to police and politi- cians,” said Yohanes Sulaiman, a security analyst. He noted that the FPI co-ordinated its activities closely with state security services and politicians, whereas the more ideological Hizbut Tahrir, which generally encourages its members not to vote to avoid legitimising democracy, “is not very useful for mainstream politics”.
The FPI disagrees with the move against Hizbut Tahrir. “Our suggestion is that there is a dialogue between the government and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia,” said Mr Slamat, adding that disbanding it was “a violation of human rights”.
The group is not alone in opposing the decision. “I don’t think it’s a particularly wise move,” said Prof Fealy. “In Britain and Australia, one thing that ended up preventing bans is intelligence agencies saying the organisation will go underground and become harder to track.”
Vigil: supporters of Jakarta’s jailed former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, gather to demand his release outside Jakarta’s High Court office on Tuesday