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RI seeks to redefine freedom amid rising religious violence
Bagus B.T. Saragih, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
God have mercy: A group of Ahmadiyah followers in Yogyakarta conduct a prayer on Tuesday after recent bans issued by several regional leaders across the country. The Yogyakarta chapter of Ahmadiyah has halted its public activities. -JP/Slamet Susanto
As local administrations move to ban Ahmadiyah, the government is in a dilemma revolving around “liberty versus order” as it responds to calls to disband the notorious Islam Defenders Front, known as the FPI.
Following the mob incident that killed three Ahmadis in Banten and the burning of three churches in Central Java last month, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered his ministers to seek legal measures to disband groups frequently involved in acts of violence.
Some believed he was likely referring to groups such as the FPI. But the order has proved to be no easy task.
The Home Ministry, which is endowed with the authority to outlaw an organization, said the freedom to form a union or organization was guaranteed by the 1945 Constitution. This, ministry spokesman Reydonnyzar Moenek told The Jakarta Post, meant the government was in a dilemma.
As of 2010, more than 9,000 mass organizations were registered with the ministry. It has never banned a single one since the issuance of the mass organization law in 1985, which granted it authority.
Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi, a politician from President Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, denied he had ignored the President’s order, saying he was only cautious not to use the authority recklessly in fear of violating the Constitution. “We are now studying the facts of the incidents,” he claimed.
The minister argued that the procedures to disband mass organizations under the existing regulation were complex. “The 1985 Mass Organization Law is too old and is no longer relevant to the country’s current situation,” he said, adding that his ministry was finalizing the revision draft of the law, which will be submitted to the House of Representatives for deliberation this year.
A 1986 government regulation outlining the ministry’s authority to disband mass organizations stipulates the government at central and regional levels can freeze a mass organization that disrupts national security and public order, receives foreign aid without the central government’s permission and helps foreign parties that jeopardize national interests.
The regulation also stipulates that the ministry ask for considerations from the Supreme Court on whether a certain group be frozen. A frozen organization shall be disbanded if found to continue the illicit acts for three months after receiving warning letters from the government.
Despite its violent acts over the past few years, the ministry said it had not yet found evidence that the FPI had broken the 1985 law.
While legal matters are hindering the government from taking stern action against the militant group, local administrations are facing no difficulties in finding reasons to ban Ahmadiyah, a minority group deemed heretical by the country’s mainstream Muslims.
Last week, Samarinda Mayor Syaharie Jaang in East Kalimantan froze the local chapter of Ahmadiyah after dozens of FPI members rallied in front of his office a few days earlier. The hardline group gave Syaharie a week’s deadline to disband the local chapter of the Islamic sect, saying if it failed to do so it would do it themselves.
The mayor reportedly granted the FPI’s demand because he considered Ahmadiyah “a time-bomb that could trigger violence”.
In another instance, East Java Governor Soekarwo issued a decree banning Ahmadis from conducting any kind of activity on Monday, only days after 32 Islamic organizations announced a plan to carry out a mass rally in the provincial capital of Surabaya to demand the administration outlaw Ahmadiyah in the province.
Activists have questioned whether democracy is the actual reason behind the government’s reluctance to disband the FPI.
Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) chairwoman Erna Ratnaningsih said Timur had a long history of hobnobbing with hardliners since he was West Java Police chief in 2008. Along with Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo, Timur attended the FPI’s 12th anniversary celebration at the organization’s headquarters in Jakarta, she said. Last month, she added, Gamawan also met with FPI leader Rizieq Shihab to seek advice over Ahmadiyah.
But disbanding mass organizations, some have argued, might not be the answer to end religious violence. Imam Prasodjo, a sociologist from the University of Indonesia, for instance, said violent acts were also caused by cultural aspects that were difficult to manage. “Disbandment of those groups will not automatically reduce violence. Group members will continue [committing violence] as long as cultural problems exist,” he said referring to the stigma against Ahmadiyah.