Love and looming danger

mass organization bill 1

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.

Abdul’s statement is a ready-made for the ultimate textbook for Newspeak and doublethink. It’s Orwell‘s dystopia revisited.


9 thoughts on “Love and looming danger”

  1. “a return to [sic] New Order…”? A return? The New Order never really left. It is still all around Indonesia in the form of bureaucrats, politicians, law enforcement and the military. It is still around in many rules and regulations that were never dismantled.

    Agree or not with Pancasila, what is beyond doubt is that it has been manipulated and distorted by succesive governments to intimidate or repress opposition.

  2. @ Mauricio: Though in my opinion nuances would be in place, I’m afraid I – generally speaking- have to be with you in your assumption “New Order” is not a relic of the past and the concepts of Pancasila have been abused time after time.

  3. On the other hand, not few pine for the stability and prosperity of the New Order. I don’t know. Seeing the country’s chronic under-performance, the generalized lack of respect for the law, and the lack of a national consensus on anything, maybe dictatorship, authoritarianism and tanggan besi is the only way that Indonesia can be governed.

  4. @ Mauricio: I doubt it. The “strong man” solution Putin style has been tried many times in history and present. Indonesia tried it over thirty years. Can’t say it’s been a smashing success. Whatever shortcomings Indonesia copes with, almost all of them have improved compared to Suharto’s New Order times. Still corruption, but at least many grafters are being prosecuted and land in jail. Still a shaky rule of law, but at least a state-of-law in statu nascendi exists. Still a TNI is too powerful in economic and political sense, but much less than in the pre-1998 years.

    The imperfections of the new democracy are obvious but yet I guess it’s an improvement compared to New Order.

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