“The Disbandment of Hizbut-Tahrir Indonesia: Curbing Islamist Hardliners?”, a Commentary by Deasy Simandjuntak

2017/23, 16 May 2017

Indonesia has moved to disband the decades-old hard-line group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI). In his speech on May 8, the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, Retired General Wiranto listed three grounds: Firstly, HTI has not assumed a positive role in the country’s efforts to achieve national goals. Secondly, HTI’s activities are contradictory to the aims, principles and characteristics of Pancasila and the Constitution of Indonesia. Thirdly, HTI’s activities have caused conflicts in society, which may threaten security and order and endanger the integrity of the unitary state of Indonesia.

Mr. Wiranto pointed out that HTI’s aim to establish a Khilafah or Caliphate, a transnational Islamic State, is a threat to the nation-state of Indonesia and asserted that the disbandment process will be done legally.

Rejecting the plan, HTI claimed they have not broken any law, as Law 17/2013 on civil society organization does not mention Islam as contradictory to Pancasila. The officially registered organization also maintained that for twenty-years they have mainly proselytized and preached about Islam, which is not against the law.

HTI is the Indonesian branch of Hizbut-Tahrir, an international, pan-Islamic, political organization established in Palestine in 1953, aiming at unifying all Muslim countries under an elected Caliph. HTI began its activities in 1980s, by proselytizing and recruiting members at campuses. In 2007, in a mass-meeting organized by HTI in Jakarta, tens of thousands expressed support of the caliphate. In 2016, the Indonesian police found that Bahrun Naim, the alleged planner of the Jakarta bombing, had previously studied with Hizbut-Tahrir.

Aside from Indonesia, Hizbut-Tahrir is also banned in sixteen other countries, fourteen of which are Muslim states.

The disbandment came only two days before the verdict against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok). HTI, as many hardline groups, had been a supporter of the blasphemy charges. The move to disband HTI was welcomed by some Islamic organizations as a step toward curbing hardliners. Indonesia’s largest, tolerant, Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have supported the disbandment. Even the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), whose ruling went against Ahok at court, agreed that HTI should be banned because its aim contradicts Pancasila.

While the disbandment seemed to curb the hardliners, the subsequent imprisonment of Ahok for blasphemy still signalled the growing presence of Islamist influence in the court.

Moreover, other violent intolerant groups such as the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) and National Movement of MUI Fatwa Defenders (GNPF-MUI), the main supporters of the blasphemy charges, who were also involved in various sectarian incidents across the archipelago, have not been banned. Some speculate that FPI still enjoys support from some elements in the military. FPI’s leader Rizieq Shihab, who is a suspect in Pancasila defamation case, now “hides” in Malaysia.

One of the dilemmas of democracy is that its protection of individual rights and emphasis on pluralism “allow” fundamentalist groups to exist freely in the society, even when such groups advocate undemocratic values. However, in the end, the survival of a diverse nation such as Indonesia depends on the preservation of its initial consensus to respect and protect such diversity from intolerant elements. As the polarisation between hardliners and moderate Muslims grows graver, it is crucial for the government to stay firm in upholding these core values.

Deasy Simandjuntak is Visiting Fellow at the Indonesia Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.