Indonesia to disband hard-line Islamist group

Indonesia is to disband an Islamist group that calls for a state based on Shariah, citing concern it undermines a secular state ideology in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country.

Chief security minister Wiranto said on Monday (May 8) that a government panel had evaluated Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate, and decided to take legal steps to disband it.

The group is the Indonesian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global Islamist party that has been banned in some Arab and Central Asian countries.

“The activities of HTI strongly indicate that they are in conflict with the Pancasila and the constitution,” said Wiranto, who uses only one name.

Pancasila is Indonesia’s state ideology, which includes belief in God, the unity of the country, social justice and democracy, and which enshrines religious diversity in an officially secular system.

“Their activities create tensions in society, threaten security and order, and unity,” Wiranto added.

He denied that the decision meant the government was opposed to Islamic organizations.

The ban comes amid concern over the rising influence of Islamist groups in Indonesia, which is home to sizable communities of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and people who adhere to traditional beliefs.

A spokeswoman for HTI, Iffa Nur, urged the government not to disband the group, saying every citizen had a right to organize and HTI was just delivering Islamic teaching.

Nur said there should have been dialogue before a legal process was started and her group was monitoring the situation.

Islamist vigilante groups, banned under the authoritarian regime of former President Suharto, which ended in 1998, have expanded in recent years.

Though usually small and on the fringes of society, such groups are seen as a threat to Indonesia’s tradition of pluralism and moderate Islam.

One such group, the Islamic Defenders Forum (FPI), shot to prominence during a recent election for governor in the capital, Jakarta. The group was instrumental in mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Muslims against the Christian incumbent over accusations he insulted Islam.

HTI was among the groups that supported the rallies.

Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama lost the election to a Muslim rival, who was endorsed, among others, by the FPI.

Purnama is on trial for blasphemy after being accused of insulting the Quran. He has denied wrongdoing.

The charge stems from his criticism of rival politicians for citing the Quran to argue that Muslims should not vote for non-Muslims.

The trial is widely seen as a test of Indonesia’s religious tolerance.

A verdict is due on Tuesday.