Kepolisian Negara Republik Indonesia

Indonesia’s Ineffective Fight against Hizb ut-Tahrir

Recently, the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) rejected Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia’s plea following its official disbandment last year. According to the country’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs of Indonesia, Wiranto, the ban decision was made because Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), as a legal mass movement, had no positive role in achieving national goals and there is a strong indication that the organisation’s values contradict Pancasila, the country’s ideology and the constitution. Moreover, their activities are deemed to be threatening the unity of the Republic of Indonesia.

Despite its early entry and clandestine movement in Indonesia in the 1980s, Hizb ut-Tahrir’s activities were not apparent until President Suharto relaxed the restriction of Islamic groups in the 1990s.

The freedom of expression brought by the democratization was then used by Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia to gain publicity and to propagate their belief in the re-establishment of the Islamic caliphate. Its most prominent activities included organising the Al-Khilafah Al-Islamiyah conference in 2000 which gathered hundreds of members and sympathizers and holding marches during the general election in 2004 to propagate the group’s views to carefully select a candidate willing to implement Sharia (Islamic law).

On a daily basis, the organisation’s activities focus on promoting the idea of re-establishing the caliphate and the importance of adhering to Sharia through various platforms including organising conferences, seminars, or distributing pamphlets in public spaces. In addition, the organisation also has a strong online presence.

The group attracted the attention of the public and certain Indonesian politicians by responding to current national and international issues as in the case of blasphemy against the Holy Qur’an by the former Jakarta’s governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, in 2016. The organisation also has gained sympathisers due to its principle against violent acts or force.

In recent times, there has been much public debate on the government’s steps towards Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia. These, for example, have been reflected by twitter trending topics, whereby those who support the decision use #HTIBubar7Mei (Disband HTI on 7 May) while those who remain in support of the existence of HTI use #AllahBersamaHTI (God with HTI). Following the rejection, Fadli Zon, vice chairman of the Gerindra Party, showed his support for HTI’s intention by filing an appeal as a part of upholding democracy in diversity.

Although HTI’s ideology may be perceived as dangerous, Jokowi’s hard approach seems unsuitable. The organisation has never violated the law. It is important to note that HTI is an organisation that upholds the idea that to establish an Islamic caliphate can only be done through propagation and socialisation. It condemns any violent actions and denounces terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State.

Therefore, the claim that the organisation is very dangerous and likely to encourage people to perpetrate terrorist attacks appears to be fear mongering. When the government is not properly informed about certain groups’ characteristics and activities, its policies might focus on the wrong targets. Groups which are truly violent and dangerous are not dealt with properly and instead enjoy greater freedom in the country.

At the same time, there is no assurance that the hard approach will be effective. As a matter of fact, HTI had already proclaimed that the government’s disbandment will not stop their Da’wa activities to promote the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Indonesia.

Moreover, the misplaced policy can also lead to the worsening of a problem that the government aims to eradicate in the first place. It is likely that the government’s decision to outlaw HTI will encourage resentment towards the government when HTI sympathizers are perceived to have been treated unjustly.

Indeed, in today’s Indonesia where religion is increasingly becoming a sensitive issue, the government’s hard approach towards certain religious movements could lead to more hatred against the state and can be utilised for the politicising and leveraging votes of certain parties.

What instead should be done by the government towards organisations that appear to contradict the country’s ideology, especially towards those movements who do not adopt a hard approach, is to oppose them with a soft approach. Instead of taking a hard approach, the Indonesian government needs to carry out socialisation efforts about what is wrong with the worldviews propagated by HTI and what other beliefs should be followed by the people.

While organisations such as HTI carry out their campaigns through various civil society institutions such as the mainstream media, the Internet, academic institutions and places of worships, the government’s counter efforts must also be carried out in the same way. For example, it could promote the idea that the country’s own ideologies are the most suitable to be applied through the mass media or by incorporating certain subjects in the national curriculum to be taught at schools or universities.

When Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia can infiltrate these public institutions, the government should respond given that it has a stronger authority over these institutions.

Whatever approaches the government adopts in the future, what is clear is that not addressing the issue properly will only result in more conflict and will fuel more anger among those groups. This will ultimately be another test for the Indonesian government and a reflection on its ability to deal with radicalism in its own backyard.