Friday, February 15, 2013

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Association in Indonesia

A group of United  Nations independent experts has called on the Government of Indonesia to amend a bill that requires new organizations to adhere to the official State  philosophy that supports the belief in only one God and imposes restrictions on  the types of activities they can carry out. 

“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  broadmindedness,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of  peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai.

Under the  Bill on Mass Organizations, new associations must not be in contradiction with  Pancasila – the official State philosophy that consecrates the belief ‘in the One and Only God’. It also stipulates that organizations have the duty to  maintain religious values.  

Mr. Kiai noted that the bill runs contrary to the significant progress towards  democratization made by Indonesia  over the past decade, which has paved the way for a flourishing civil society. 

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said the legislation violates these freedoms and clarified that freedom of religion also  applies to non-theistic and atheistic convictions.  

The bill also restricts the types of activities that associations can carry out, and bans  those activities which ‘endanger the unity and safety’ of Indonesia, as  well as those which are the duty of law enforcers and Government. This last one  could prevent organizations from uncovering instances of bad governance, such  as corruption cases.

“Associations should be free to determine their statutes, structures and  activities and to make decisions without State interference,” Mr. Kiai pointed  out, warning that the bill threatens associations with burdensome  administrative requirements. 
If the bill is passed, the Government will be able to  oversee the administration of associations through an information system.  Foreign organizations will face the same restrictions, but will also need to  obtain a permit to operate in the country, and foreign nationals who want to start  an association will have to have lived in the country for at least seven  consecutive years and place over $1 million of their personal wealth in the  association. 

The bill, which is due to be voted on soon, also stipulates that the Government may suspend associations without obtaining a  prior court order. “Let me stress that suspension of associations should only  be sanctioned by an impartial and independent court in case of a clear and  imminent danger resulting in a flagrant violation of domestic laws, in compliance with international human rights law,” stated Mr. Kiai. 

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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