Disbanding Hizbut Tahrir, a step back to New Order

Azis Anwar Fachrudin | CRCS | Opinion

The government’s plan to disband Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) raises two critical issues. One concerns the legal procedure; the other relates to reasons behind such a plan.

Contrary to what some media have reported, the government hasn’t officially disbanded HTI. What was conveyed by Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto on Monday (May 8) was the government’s official political stance against HTI; that the government is going to bring the organization of the transnational Islamist movement to court in order to disband it.

Following Law No. 17/2013 on mass organizations, disbanding a mass organization is not easy. It requires four gradual steps: from (a) three written warnings, each of which may take a month; (b) termination of funds; (c) temporary halt of the organization’s activities, which requires consideration from the Supreme Court; and lastly (d) disbanding the organization by revoking its legal entity status.

This takes a long time. The government has to go through these steps, because HTI as a mass organization has a legal entity status since it was registered at the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2006 — regardless whether the Ministry at the time of registration was aware of what an ideological goal of a khilafah ideology meant.

More important are the reasons underlying the intended disbandment of HTI. Two of them are the most noteworthy, namely (1) that HTI threatens public order; its existence provokes horizontal conflict and (2) that HTI’s ideological foundation is contradictory to the state ideology Pancasila.

Whether khilafah contradicts Pancasila requires a separate discussion. What concerns me is the determination of these reasons. These two reasons are doubleedged swords: today they may afflict HTI, in the future they may afflict mass organizations from the other side of the spectrum, as it did in the past.

The reason on maintaining order and preventing horizontal conflict was of the main reasons why the Shiites of Sampang in Madura, East Java, who have been internally displaced for 5 years, did not return home until today as apparently the government wanted to avoid another “Sunni-Shiite conflict”. The same reasons were cited behind the issuance of the 2008 joint ministerial decree, which restricts Ahmadis’ activities.

Maintaining order depends on who happens to be in the dominant position. Sukarno’s pledoi, titled Indonesia Sues (Indonesia Menggugat) and read in a trial in Bandung in 1930, was seen as a treasonable offense in the eyes of the Dutch East Indies government.

And, by the way, would HTI members actually commit treason in the sense of urging Muslims to transform the Republic into a caliphate? They could, as they have done so at every opportunity — through their publications, lectures and conferences. But they didn’t engage in an action that was so significant that it drove Muslims to revolt against the Indonesian government.

Even though they are wellorganized and very loud on social media, HTI is estimated at no more than 500,000 members. This is tiny when compared to the largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, whose members, according to a 2013 exit poll of the Indonesian Survey Institute, are around 91 million. Moreover, most HTI members are undergraduate students who still depend on their parents. And it has no powerful ally in the circle of government elites.

So although it is possible for HTI to topple the government, for now it is not realistic and very much unlikely to happen.

Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, HTI in Indonesia has never directly engaged in vigilante, violent acts. HTI members may have, but as an organization HTI usually holds peaceful rallies, conferences and spreads propaganda on social media. If maintaining order is the reason, why doesn’t the government prioritize Muslim vigilante organizations that have more members and often engage in intimidating and violent acts? Aren’t these organizations more threatening to public order and the supremacy of the law?

The government’s other reason for wanting to disband HTI concerns its ideology, which it claims contradicts Pancasila. This should remind us of the “Pancasila as the sole foundation” politics of the New Order, formulated into the 1985 law on mass organizations.

It was in the name of safeguarding Pancasila that spreading “Marxism, Leninism and communism” was prohibited: Not including the Golkar Party, political parties were streamlined into two — the United Development Party (PPP) and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI); the PPP had to change its ideological foundation from Islam to Pancasila; several Muslim organizations were repressed, dismissed or coerced into changing their ideology by the military, leading to the 1984 Tanjung Priok massacre and 1989 Talangsari killings, among others.

Fifteen years into the “reform period,” revision of the New Order’s 2013 law on mass organizations was some progress as disbandment of organizations became much more difficult, while a requisite to founding a legal organization stated that it should not “contravene Pancasila.” (The law still explicitly mentions atheism and communism/ Marxism-Leninism as contradicting Pancasila.)

By using Pancasila, with its multi-interpretive nature, as an instrument to disband an organization, the government has followed in the steps of the New Order. Using Pancasila today impinges HTI; tomorrow it might be some Marxist-leaning groups; a day after tomorrow it might be the liberal groups.

If I had legislative power, I would propose to move the red line, disbanding organizations based only on violent acts, among others, or other standards that are fairer and less ambiguous. But for now, realistically, the government very likely doesn’t want to reverse course. So if HTI is disbanded, will their members concede to Pancasila or instead become more militant or, worse, be engaged in violent acts and move to join or set up terrorist organizations because conduits to peaceful, civil self-expression have been blocked?

The writer, Azis Anwar Fachrudin, is a staff member of CRCS. This piece was originally published at the Jakarta Post, May 12, 2017.

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