The EU ambassador in Jakarta wrote a love letter to Indonesia on February the 14th. He apparently went cruising. Or perhaps he’s already courting the Garuda bird. He praises the great Indonesian people, the fascinating Indonesian diversity, the wonderful Indonesian products, the beautiful Indonesian landscapes and the ever improving Indonesian tourist infrastructure, including more and more golf courses. Except for golf courses I actually agree wholeheartedly with him .
However I think true love shouldn’t be blind. Julian Wilson is a diplomat and as a diplomat he can’t publicly criticise Indonesia’s characteristics, developments or incidents. But I can. So let me add my love and complete his sunny Valentine appraisal with a critical note.
Last Thursday on the very same day Ambassador Wilson published his “From Brussels with love”-letter in the Jakarta Globe, independent UN rapporteurs officially warned against the new Bill on Mass Organizations.
A special committee of the House of Representatives is busy creating a legal dragon. It’s gonna hit civil organizations. They will be banned if authorities label them as a threat to the “unity and safety of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia”. Criteria which are extremely vague and prone to arbitrariness. Moreover the new bill together with a Home Affairs Ministry’s decree ruling the founding of social organizations will exclude non governmental associations to enter the fields covered by government and law enforcers.
This legal dragon in the making will seriously restrict fundamental liberties of freedom of association & assembly and freedom of thought & expression in Indonesia. For instance it potentially will effectively prevent civil organizations from revealing, denouncing, let alone charging, criminal practices, including human trafficking or corruption. Moreover administrations of these organizations will be under permanent surveillance and control of government.
It’s an old rulers’ old trick: keep a close eye on, neutralize and muzzle opposition. I think that’s why Ronald Rofriandri ( Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies) and Amir Effendi Siregar ( Coalition for Freedom of Expression and Assembly) said a return to New Order is around the corner. That may or may not be proven to be exaggeration. But it definitely brings the “Big Brother is watching you”, the “1984-situation”, to mind.
And there is another awkward peculiarity attached to the bill.
It stands to reason a state demands all individuals and organizations to comply with the country’s constitution or charter. Or in Indonesia with it’s founding principles of Pancasila. Right?
No not right.
Not if it means the exclusion of people who or organizations that don’t share or even question the unshakable belief in a one and only God or don’t want to commit themselves to upholding the exclusive monotheistic values attached to them. But that’s exactly what the new Bill threatens to do. Civil mass organization will deny them permit if they in the opinion of authorties “embrace, instigate and propagate beliefs and religions conflicting with Pancasila”. The Bill denies, at least threatens, freedom to associations based on other religions, on agnostic or atheist views, on no explicit spiritual conviction at all. As well as other (whether or not foreign based or funded) organizations which are deemed not agreeable, inconvenient or opposed to the powers that be. Strictly interpreted Red Cross and Care will be off limits. Just like Oxfam and Save the Children. Let alone the Swedish Humanistic Association or any of it’s sister organizations. Labour unions based on a social-democratic philosophy will also be forbidden.
So no room for non-believers or subjects that leave out religion from their lives.
Ronald Rofriandri, Amir Effendi Siregar and the UN rapporteurs didn’t meet a lot of understanding on the part of the special committee of the House of Representatives which is busy drafting and processing the bill. Abdul Malik Haramain, a PKB lawmaker, first reassuringly commented “Mass organizations (will) … still have the freedom to perform their activities, to manage their organizations and to create their own regulations“, immediately followed by the chilling statement that “The state is not only obliged to respect freedom to assemble and to associate of its citizens, but the state is obliged,… , to control the freedom.”