Jokowi strikes back

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - By Is­mira Lut­fia Tis­nadi­brata

In­done­sia’s pres­i­dent goes on the of­fen­sive against rad­i­cal Is­lamic groups

In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo has gone on the of­fen­sive by ban­ning the rad­i­cal Mus­lim group Hizbut Tahrir In­done­sia. Crit­ics say that out­law­ing this peace­ful group was cow­ardly and the much-loved pres­i­dent is putting his demo­cratic cre­den­tials on the line

Asign bear­ing the name and logo of Hizbut Tahrir In­done­sia (HTI) on the ex­te­rior of the group’s head­quar­ters in Jakarta is now cov­ered in black cloth, a stark re­minder of a ban handed down by the In­done­sian gov­ern­ment in July.

The group went qui­etly af­ter it was deemed il­le­gal, os­ten­si­bly due to its vi­sion to es­tab­lish a caliphate and im­ple­ment sharia law – aims that the gov­ern­ment said vi­o­lated the con­sti­tu­tion and the state ide­ol­ogy, Pan­casila, which em­pha­sises unity and democ­racy, among other tenets.

“It was our own ini­tia­tive to cover the logo right af­ter the an­nounce­ment,” said the group’s spokesman, Is­mail Yu­santo, re­fer­ring to a gov­ern­ment press con­fer­ence on 19 July dur­ing which a Jus­tice Min­istry of­fi­cial an­nounced that HTI’s sta­tus as a le­gal en­tity had been re­voked.

The re­vo­ca­tion, which ended HTI’s roughly 30 years of ex­is­tence in In­done­sia, fol­lowed the en­act­ment of a con­tro­ver­sial de­cree is­sued by Pres­i­dent Joko ‘Jokowi’ Wi­dodo on 10 July to re­place a 2013 law on mass or­gan­i­sa­tion, giv­ing him ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity to close down or­gan­i­sa­tions deemed il­le­gal with­out ju­di­cial in­volve­ment.

“It must be un­der­lined that the de­cree is not in­tended to dis­credit Mus­lim mass or­gan­i­sa­tions, es­pe­cially the Mus­lim com­mu­nity which is the ma­jor­ity in In­done­sia,” Wi­ranto, the coun­try’s co­or­di­nat­ing se­cu­rity min­is­ter, said at the time, stress­ing that the de­cree was not an abuse of power or an at­tempt to limit free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion.

How­ever, com­ing months af­ter a wave of con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim op­po­si­tion helped

de­rail the po­lit­i­cal ca­reer of for­mer Jakarta gover­nor Ba­suki ‘Ahok’ Pur­nama, and with pres­i­den­tial elec­tions loom­ing in 2019, Wi­dodo ap­pears ready to go to bat­tle with the coun­try’s re­li­gious hardright and risk tar­nish­ing his rep­u­ta­tion as a demo­crat along the way – he has al­ready been forced to brush off ques­tions from re­porters about whether he has au­thor­i­tar­ian am­bi­tions.

Crit­ics have said the de­cree, which does not name a spe­cific or­gan­i­sa­tion, was hastily is­sued and serves as a short­cut for the gov­ern­ment to ban any mass or­gan­i­sa­tions by re­mov­ing 18 ar­ti­cles in the 2013 law. The re­moved ar­ti­cles stip­u­lated that dis­band­ing a mass or­gan­i­sa­tion would have to be de­cided by the court af­ter a due le­gal process.

Yus­ril Ihza Ma­hen­dra, a for­mer jus­tice min­is­ter, said re­mov­ing those ar­ti­cles ran con­trary to the orig­i­nal in­tent of the law, con­ceived at the be­gin­ning of the re­for­ma­tion era. “It was to pre­vent the gov­ern­ment from abus­ing its power and to en­sure checks and bal­ances,” he said.

Ade Bhakti, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Jakarta-based Cen­tre for Rad­i­cal­ism and Derad­i­cal­i­sa­tion Stud­ies, said that HTI’s view­points, com­pared to other rad­i­cal groups, were rel­a­tively “soft” and did not pose a le­git­i­mate threat to the coun­try, largely be­cause they were non-vi­o­lent.

“It was too risky to take such an in­stant mea­sure and it could erode peo­ple’s trust in Jokowi’s im­age as a demo­cratic per­son,” Ade said, adding that the de­cree may tar­nish the pres­i­dent’s cred­i­bil­ity as a de­fender of free­dom of ex­pres­sion and as­so­ci­a­tion.

The risk posed by HTI, he said, “pales in com­par­i­son to the cost that Jokowi may have to pay… po­lit­i­cally, in terms of los­ing sup­port from the Mus­lim com­mu­nity as the ma­jor­ity in the coun­try.”

Though Wi­dodo’s gam­ble is al­most cer­tainly linked to the fate of Ahok, a close ally who is now serv­ing jail time over a blas­phemy con­vic­tion, HTI was an odd group to go af­ter, Ade noted, given that none of its mem­bers were among the lead­ers of the Na­tional Move­ment to Safe­guard the In­done­sian Ulema Coun­cil’s Fatwa, which or­gan­ised the mass ral­lies against Ahok.

“Po­lit­i­cally, they are too mi­nor to be con­sid­ered as foe for Jokowi,” Ade said, spec­u­lat­ing that the HTI may have been tar­geted for that very rea­son, al­low­ing the pres­i­dent to test pub­lic opin­ion with a group that would not hit back with rau­cous and po­ten­tially vi­o­lent protests.

Yu­santo, the HTI spokesman, said he was op­ti­mistic the de­cree – now be­ing re­viewed by the con­sti­tu­tional court – would be over­turned due to a lack of ev­i­dence to back the gov­ern­ment’s claims that HTI’s teach­ings posed a threat so se­vere that it met the thresh­old of an emer­gency situ­ta­tion re­quir­ing a pres­i­den­tial de­cree.

“If the court over­turns the de­cree, it could be a back­lash for Jokowi’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. Is­su­ing the de­cree and the way it was is­sued were in­cor­rect to start with,” said Idil Ak­bar, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst from Univer­si­tas Pad­ja­jaran in Ban­dung, West Java.

Yu­santo said that he was also count­ing on sup­port from po­lit­i­cal par­ties that have openly de­clared their op­po­si­tion to the de­cree, both for the way it was is­sued and the lack of demo­cratic means in the process of dis­band­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions. Their stance on the de­cree will be crit­i­cal in an up­com­ing par­lia­men­tary assem­bly dur-

Op­po­site page: po­lice ap­proach a gov­ern­ment of­fice fol­low­ing an ex­plo­sion in West Java, In­done­sia, on 27 Fe­bru­ary (top); mem­bers of var­i­ous hard­line Is­lamic groups cel­e­brate af­ter Jakarta gover­nor Ba­suki ‘Ahok’ Pur­nama was con­victed of com­mit­ting blas­phemy on 9 May (bot­tom)

This page: Ahok ar­rives at a polling sta­tion dur­ing the sec­ond round of elec­tions in Jakarta on 19 April


ing which law­mak­ers from var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal fac­tions will vote on whether to pass the de­cree into law and per­ma­nently re­place the 2013 mass or­gan­i­sa­tion law.

HTI’s lawyer and for­mer law and hu­man rights min­is­ter Yus­ril Ihza Ma­hen­dra told South­east Asia Globe that should par­lia­ment vote against the de­cree, it would cre­ate a le­gal void on reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing mass or­gan­i­sa­tions, pos­ing what Ade said was an­other risk to Wi­dodo’s cred­i­bil­ity.

“The gov­ern­ment could be per­ceived as reck­less in is­su­ing a de­cree,” Ade said, com­pound­ing neg­a­tive sen­ti­ments still fes­ter­ing from the Jakarta elec­tion, when Wi­dodo and his gov­ern­ment were widely per­ceived as sup­port­ing Ahok, who is Chi­nese and Chris­tian – at­tributes that helped unite the op­po­si­tion against him.

But even the mass ral­lies or­gan­ised by Mus­lim groups against Ahok were well within the demo­cratic cor­ri­dor, said Idil, the po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst. “Even Ahok at that time was not sacked from his po­si­tion, and he un­der­went an open and fair trial,” he said, adding that the moves to ban HTI and is­sue the de­cree were just adding to an al­ready long list of pub­lic dis­ap­point­ment in Wi­dodo, in­clud­ing a slug­gish econ­omy and ris­ing food prices.

But to say that Wi­dodo is los­ing sup­port from Mus­lims in gen­eral would be an over­state­ment, Idil added. “Cer­tain Mus­lim groups also sup­port the de­cree, such as MUI and NU,” he said ref­er­erring to the In­done­sian Coun­cil of Ulemma and Nahd­latul Ulama, In­done­sia’s largest Mus­lim mass or­gan­i­sa­tion.

It’s not dif­fi­cult to find mem­bers of these groups who agree with the gov­ern­ment’s rea­sons for shut­ting down HTI. Yaqut Cho­lil Qoumas, leader of An­sor Youth Move­ment, a youth wing of NU, said they sup­ported HTI be­ing dis­banded be­cause of the depth with which its teach­ings have pen­e­trated In­done­sian so­ci­ety.

“They are a threat to the uni­tary state of In­done­sia be­cause they as­pire to es­tab­lish a caliphate,” Yaqut said, adding that they have mem­bers who are now bu­reau­crats, politi­cians, mem­bers of the mil­i­tary and po­lice force, civil ser­vants and em­ploy­ees of state-owned en­ter­prises. Ac­cord­ing to Yaqut, these mem­bers would pros­e­ly­tise their ideas of a caliphate, lob­by­ing key peo­ple to join the cause un­til they could even­tu­ally seize power.

“This is the pat­tern that Hizbut Tahrir used in Egypt and Jor­dan in their at­tempts for coup d’etat,” Yaqut said. “They don’t recog­nise equal­ity for all peo­ple, as they re­gard non-Mus­lims as sec­ond-class cit­i­zens who don’t have po­lit­i­cal rights in a caliphate sys­tem.”

Yu­santo, how­ever, said that such ac­cu­sa­tions would re­main no more than al­le­ga­tions as long as they were not proven in a court of law.

“It would not be pos­si­ble to do that any more, now that the law has been re­placed with the de­cree. The av­enue to jus­tify the al­le­ga­tions, to en­sure fair­ness, is no longer there, now that the court process is elim­i­nated,” he said. “But we are the ones be­ing blamed as anti-Pan­casila. Is it fair and just to dis­band an or­gan­i­sa­tion with­out trial, with­out fairly prov­ing al­le­ga­tions? The gov­ern­ment obliges the peo­ple to up­hold Pan­casila when they don’t do that them­selves.”

Yaqut re­jected crit­i­cism that the de­cree is not demo­cratic, say­ing that the gov­ern­ment was well within its au­thor­ity to is­sue such an or­der, given the pre-ex­ist­ing law was in­ef­fec­tive to quickly re­spond to es­ca­lat­ing threats posed by rad­i­cal Is­lam.

“It was a clear and present emer­gency sit­u­a­tion and the gov­ern­ment’s duty is to


main­tain the coun­try’s se­cu­rity,” Yaqut said, adding that any par­ties op­pos­ing the de­cree still had av­enues to chal­lenge it through the con­sti­tu­tional court or par­lia­ment.

Yu­santo said lit­tle had changed with HTI since the axe came down on them, although he ac­knowl­edged that some mem­bers have ex­pressed con­cerns over the new de­cree, while oth­ers have re­mained un­con­cered be­cause they “un­der­stand the risks of pros­e­lytis­ing in a sec­u­lar sys­tem and a re­pres­sive regime”.

“HTI never changes,” he said. “Our ideas, our ways of do­ing things are al­ways the same. What is dif­fer­ent is the regime and the regime’s re­ac­tion to­wards us. We may never have to change our strat­egy when the regime changes, since no regime stays for­ever.”

Po­lice block a road dur­ing protests against Ahok in Jakarta in March (above) Op­po­site page, clock­wise from top left: sup­port­ers of Ahok push the gate out­side the prison where he was jailed in Jakarta; Wi­dodo salutes dur­ing a cer­e­mony mark­ing the 72nd...

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