A group of United Nations independent experts has warned that Indonesia’s bill on mass organizations threatens to curtail rights to freedom of association, expression and religion.
The group called on the House of Representatives on Thursday to amend the bill to keep it in line with international human rights norms.
“The state must ensure that any restriction on the rights to freedom of association, expression and religion is necessary in a democratic society, proportionate to the aim pursued and does not harm the principles of pluralism, tolerance and broad-mindedness,” said Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
He noted that the bill ran contrary to Indonesia’s progress toward democratization and a flourishing civil society.
The bill on mass organizations states that associations may not contradict Pancasila, the official state philosophy that consecrates the belief “in the One and Only God.” It stipulates that organizations must maintain religious values.
“These provisions can violate freedom of religion or belief,” said Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief.
“Freedom of religion or belief has a broad application, covering also non-theistic and atheistic convictions.”
Associations are not only restricted to limited categories of activities by the bill, but also subjected to vague prohibitions, including bans on conducting activities that “endanger the unity and safety of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia” and “embracing, instigating and propagating beliefs and religions conflicting with Pancasila.”
“I am dismayed by these provisions; they are illegitimate and must be amended accordingly,” Kiai said, noting that Jakarta had also proposed to further ban “activities which are the duty and jurisdiction of the law enforcers and government,” which could prevent associations from uncovering instances of bad governance, including corruption cases.
“Associations should be free to determine their statutes, structures and activities and to make decisions without state interference,” Kiai said, warning that the bill threatened associations with burdensome administrative requirements.
The bill also significantly curtails the activities of foreign associations, which must obtain a permit from the Foreign Ministry to operate and are mandated not to disrupt the “stability and oneness” of Indonesia, carry out “practical political activities” or fund-raising or activities “which disrupt diplomatic ties.”
In addition, foreign nationals willing to co-found an association may face discrimination as they must have lived in Indonesia for at least seven consecutive years and places Rp 10 billion ($1 million) of their personal wealth in the association.
“I am concerned that certain provisions in the bill will hamper the legitimate human rights work of civil society in the country, in particular of foreign societal organizations,” said Margaret Sekaggya, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.