JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia's president has signed a decree giving the government the power to ban radical organizations, in a move aimed at outlawing groups behind an apparent rise in the political clout of hard-line Islam.
The measure announced Wednesday by the country's top security minister follows months of sectarian tensions in the world's most populous Muslim nation that shook the government and undermined its reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam.
It amends an existing law regulating mass organizations, allowing the government to sidestep a potentially lengthy court process to implement a ban. It is likely that Hizbut Tahrir, a group that campaigns for Indonesia to adopt Shariah law and become a caliphate, is among the targets of the decree after the government announced in May that it planned to ban the group.
Wiranto, the coordinating minister for politics, security and law, said the decree is aimed at protecting the unity and existence of Indonesia as a nation and not at discrediting Islamic groups. Wiranto, who uses one name, said the decree was signed by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on Monday.
New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the move, calling it a "troubling violation" of the rights to freedom of association and expression despite it being supported by moderate groups such as Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organization.
Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, Andreas Harsono, said the government already has the power to take legal action against any group suspected of violating the law.
"Banning any organization strictly on ideological grounds ... is a draconian action that undermines rights of freedom of association and expression that Indonesians have fought hard to establish since the Suharto dictatorship," Harsono said.
Hizbut Tahrir, along with groups such as the violent Islamic Defenders Front, was behind months of massive protests in Jakarta, the capital, against the city's minority Christian governor, an ally of Jokowi who was accused of blaspheming Islam. He subsequently lost a bid for re-election to a Muslim candidate and was imprisoned for two years for blasphemy despite prosecutors downgrading the charge to a lesser offense.
Hizbut, a global organization, is estimated to have tens of thousands of members in Indonesia.
Ismail Yusanto, a spokesman for the group in Indonesia, said it plans to seek a judicial review of the decree in the Constitutional Court.
"The move just shows an arbitrary action aimed at disbanding Hizbut Tahrir," he said.
Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report.