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The Diplomat: Indonesia’s Bill on Mass Organizations Raises Concerns

February 20, 2013

The Diplomat: Indonesia’s Bill on Mass Organizations Raises Concerns

February 20, 2013

The Diplomat (Tokyo)
By Mong Palatino

The Indonesian parliament is set to approve a bill that would amend
the law governing mass organizations. Human rights groups and experts
have warned against the repressive provisions of the new legislation.

The latest draft requires mass organizations to adhere to the
country’s 1945 Constitution and the principles of Pancasila, a state
philosophy about the belief in one God.

Specifically, Article 21 of the bill stipulates that mass
organizations are “obliged to maintain the unity of the state,
uphold morality and ethics and nurture the country’s religious and
cultural norms.” Further, Article 61 prohibits “receiving or
giving illegal support from and to foreign agencies”, and
“promoting teachings that are against Pancasila”.

Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful
assembly and of association, reminded Indonesia that state regulations
should not harm the principles of “pluralism, tolerance and
broad-mindedness.”

Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or
belief, added that “freedom of religion or belief has a broad
application, covering also non-theistic and atheistic convictions.”

Media groups have also voiced opposition to the proposed regulation.
“How can journalists not mention ideologies, which are against
Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution, in their publications?” asks
Amir Effendi Siregar of the Independent Coalition for the
Democratization of Broadcasting.

Meanwhile, local groups worry that the bill will give broad powers to
the government, which corrupt authorities may use to undermine the
independence of mass organizations, especially those critical of
government policies. They also raised concerns about some of the
restrictive administrative requirements governing foreign
organizations.

For example, the bill empowers the government to review the activities
of local mass organizations every three years, and every year for
foreign organizations. Authorities can also use financial audits of
organizations to grant or deny permits to existing groups. There is
also a proposal that would allow the government to suspend
associations without a court order.

Under the proposed bill, foreigners who want to establish a mass
organization must be residents of Indonesia for at least seven
consecutive years and deposit more than $1 million of their personal
wealth in the association. Once accredited, foreign associations are
forbidden to carry out “practical political activities” or
fundraising or activities “which disrupt diplomatic ties”.

To put all of this in perspective, it is important to note that mass
organizations flourished in the country after the downfall of
President Suharto in 1998. Today, there are at least 19,000 registered
mass organizations under the Ministry of Social Affairs while the
Ministry of Religious Affairs oversees more than 9,000 groups.

The initiative to replace the 1985 Mass Organizations law was
initially supported by many people who wanted the government to
regulate local groups such as the often violent Islamic Defenders
Front (FPI).

Indeed, the new law would ban activities that promote “racial
conflict, blasphemy and violence”, which are covered by the
country’s penal code, as legal analysts have pointed out.

Indonesian legislators have dismissed the opinions of UN experts and
hinted that they might approve the controversial measure next month.
But local opposition to the bill is growing.

The National Commission on Human Rights, Indonesia’s national human
rights institution, has voiced its apprehension over some of the
bill’s provisions. Meanwhile, the Coalition on Freedom of Assembly,
which is made up of 22 mass organizations, is urging the government to
withdraw the draft legislation.

They argue that the new law could subvert the rights to freedom of
association, expression and religion, which are essential in a
democratic society.

To prevent an unnecessary confrontation with civil society groups, the
Indonesian government would be wise to delay approval of the bill.
Then, after taking other views into account, parliament would be able
to adopt broader human rights standards in a revised draft of the law.

Raymond ‘Mong’ Palatino is President of the Kabataan (Youth) Party and
a member of the House of Representatives in the Philippines. He is a
regular blogger and Global Voices regional editor for Southeast Asia
and Oceania.

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