INDONESIA: Penalising freedom of association, disrespecting people’s aspiration – enactment of the mass organisation law 

On 2 July 2013 the House of Representatives enacted the law on mass organisation through a vote at the Plenary Meeting. Out of 361 members of parliament who attended the session, only 50 refused the legislation of the latest draft of the law. Parties which are in favour of the enactment included the Democratic Party, Golkar, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the United Development Party (PPP) and the National Awakening Party (PKB).

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is of the view that the latest draft of the law violates freedoms of association and expression thus considers its enactment as a setback for democracy and civil liberty. It finds the argument put by the parliament in defending the law –which is to ban mass organisations involving acts of violence — to be disproportionate. In responding to violence committed by members of an organisation, the law enforcement officials should be imposing the current available provisions under the Penal Code (KUHP) instead of taking an extreme shortcut in contrary with human rights. Whereas condemning the acts of violence perpetrated by members of civil organisations, the AHRC strongly believes that such problem is rooted in the failure of law officials to enforce the current law and not the absence of a law penalising freedom of association.

Apart from not being able to address the problem of violence perpetrated by mass organisations, the recently enacted law is in principle similar with Law no. 8 Year 1985 on mass organisation which was legislated under the Soeharto regime. The spirit carried by both laws is comparable: to control and repress civil society by forcing them to be in a uniformed format so that they can be easily controlled by the government. During Soeharto’s regime, the Minister of Interior dissolved the Islamic student organisations, the Marhaenist youth movements as well as some other organisations. Under the current law, organisations which are considered by the government to be a threat to vague ideas such as ‘state’s integrity’ and the state’s ideology, Pancasila, may be banned. The law provides so much room for the misuse by the government as it is them who are left with the authority to determine which organisations are in contrary with such abstract ideas. In addition to that, Article 15-19 of the law sets out long procedures and burdensome requirements for the registration of an organisation which is subject to the consent of the central and local government.

The law grants excessive authority to the government to interfere in the activities of civil society organisations, in contrary with the principle of democracy. This will cause problems in the future, especially in a country whose most state officials, both in central and local government, are corrupted as in Indonesia.

The procedural aspect of the enactment of the law is as equally as problematic with the substance of the law. In contrary with what is required by law, the process of drafting the mass organisation law ignored the comments and concerns raised by civil society. The Special Committee responsible for the drafting of the law held various workshops and public consultations in different areas in Indonesia in 2012, inviting members of the public to deliver their comments on the law. Most of the civil society involved at the workshops and consultations at that time rejected the law as they believe that it violates civil liberties guaranteed by the 1945 Constitution. However, despite of such rejection, the parliament still decided to enact the law — not only disrespecting the people’s aspiration but also violating the reform mandates, one of which is the repeal, not revision, of law No. 8 Year 1985 on Mass Organisation.

The AHRC is therefore calling for the parliament to annul the law and supporting the plan of civil society organisations in Indonesia to request for a review on the law to the Constitutional Court. The freedom that the mass organisations have today is a result of a bloody struggle of the people which led to reformasi that commenced in 1998. It thus shall not be undermined, but respected and preserved.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-126-2013
Countries : Indonesia,
Issues : Democracy, Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Rule of law,