Freedom under grave threat
Margareth S. Aritonang
The Jakarta Post
After months of delays and intense debate, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed into law the mass organizations bill, which will give the government greater control over public activities, including the power to disband an organization deemed a threat to the state.
Out of the 361 lawmakers that attended the plenary meeting on Tuesday, 311 voted for the bill's enactment, saying that the country needed such legislation to empower local organizations and counter foreign intervention in the country through NGOs. One hundred and ninety nine lawmakers skipped the plenary.
The Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party, the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Peoples Conscience (Hanura) Party were the only factions to oppose the bill,which activists have said could be used by the powers that be to silence political dissidents.
'I'm aware of the criticism out there. This law may not satisfy all groups but this is the best we can do,' said Abdul Malik Haramain, who chairs the House's special committee deliberating the bill.
Religious groups such as Muhammadiyah, the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) and the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) have rejected the passage of the controversial bill and are planning to challenge the newly passed law at the Constitutional Court.
The law places the Home Ministry in charge of the government's integrated information system to screen all mass organizations operating in the country in coordination with related ministries as well as local administrations.
Speaking before lawmakers, Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi said that his ministry recently recorded 65,577 mass organizations, the Law and Human Rights Ministry 48,866 organizations, the Social Affairs Ministry 25,406 organizations and the Foreign Ministry 108 foreign organizations. According to Gamawan, there are many unregistered organizations operating in the country that should be monitored. 'We need to manage all of these groups so that they can positively contribute to the country,' he said.
Critics of the law have insisted that it will only grant excessive state control over civil movements in the country.
Among the 87 articles included in the law, several articles have raised concerns over potential arbitrary interpretation by the state of organizations that are critical of the government's policies.
Article 5 of the law, for example, urges mass organizations to maintain and strengthen the unity of the nation as well as to uphold the state's ideals. The article also ban's blasphemy against established religions; activities that promote separatism; disruption of public order; and violation of the state's ideology, Pancasila.
It therefore obliges all mass organizations operating across the archipelago, registered and unregistered, to undergo a screening process with related ministries to secure a permit from the government. Only Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Islamic organizations, are exempt from the requirement on account of their contributions to the country and because they were established before the country's independence.
Under the law, foreign groups must undergo a screening process with a clearing house that includes the Foreign Ministry as well as the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).
Critics said the mass organizations law overlapped existing laws, such as Law No. 24/2004 on the foundation of organizations and Law No. 14/2008 on public information (KIP). Those laws, they argued, set conditions for registered organizations.
They further argued that the 2008 law on public information allowed the government to asses information on any organization, which lawmakers said was one of the primary purposes of the mass organizations bill. 'It is obvious that the law will only grant the government the authority to closely monitor and freeze our activities whenever we are considered a threat,' Imparsial executive director Poengky Indarti said.
The bill was initiated in response to public calls for the disbandment of violent groups such as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), which have frequently caused public disturbances. Activists, however, doubt that the law will address the problem.
The law's definition of mass organizations
Mass organizations are groups that are voluntarily set up by the public based on shared aspirations, will, needs and interests; and that are participating to uphold the unity of Indonesia based on the state's ideology of Pancasila.
The government will impose sanctions on mass groups that fail to:
'¢ Register and secure permits from the government
'¢ Uphold the unity and integrity of the nation
'¢ Maintain religious, cultural and moral values
'¢ Preserve peace and public order
'¢ Promote the state's ideals
The government will issue three warning letters to groups that are considered to have violated their obligations. Each letter will be valid for approximately 30 days.
The government will temporarily halt the operations of any groups that fail to respond to any of the warning letters, after securing legal advice from the Supreme Court.
The government can file a request to the district court to disband or revoke the permits of groups deemed to have failed to complete all requirements.
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