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Religious leaders back Indonesian move to ban radical group

Move comes not a moment too soon as country risks being swamped by extremism, they say

Religious leaders back Indonesian move to ban radical group

Protesters from the radical Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia hold a demonstration in support of Muslim clerics at the National Monument in Jakarta on Feb. 5. The Indonesian government is seeking to disband the pro-Islamic caliphate group. (Photo by Adek Berry/AFP)

Indonesia's decision to disband a hard-line pro-Islamic caliphate group comes at the right time as the country risks being swamped by a wave of radicalism, according to religious leaders.

Coordinating Minister on Political, Law and Security Affairs, Wiranto, announced the government would seek court approval to disband Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which has operated in Indonesia since the 1980's.

"The government needs to take firm legal steps" against the group as it threatens national unity and the nation's secular constitution, he said.

Hizbut Tahrir has long been controversial, especially with regard to their aim of making Indonesia an Islamic state.

It was also at the forefront of recent protests against outgoing Jakarta Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, demanding he be imprisoned for blasphemy.

Bishop Yohanes Harun Yuwono of Tanjungkarang, chairman of the bishops' commission for ecumenical and interreligious affairs said the government move is a reasonable and positive step "to preserving the state's integrity … and the constitution."

"Many countries have banned Hizbut Tahrir and thankfully Indonesia is also doing the same," he said.

There are still other radical organizations, which the government should ban, he said.

Jesuit Father Franz Magnis Suseno, a former professor at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy, also supported the move, saying the group posed a threat to national stability.

He referred to a recent video that went viral where students supporting the group at the school declared their intention to establish a transnational Muslim caliphate. 

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"The government need to more assertive against such radical groups," he said.

Support also came from Muslim leaders.

Said Aqil Siroj, chairman of Nahdatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organization, said the government had taken the right step.

He said, what needs to be done now is de-radicalize the organization's sympathizers.

"They must be enlightened as to why Indonesia cannot become an Islamic country," he said.

Siroj said his organization would continue to support the government.

However, legal expert Petrus Salestinus said the move to disband Hizbut Tahrir could take time.

A legal process needs to be observed for this to take place, he said

To dissolve an organization a petition to do so must go through the court. "It could go on for years," he said.

Under Indonesia law its not that easy to simply disband radical groups, he said, adding that laws need to be changed that would give the government "greater authority to dissolve an organization that clearly disrupts the integrity of the nation."

Hizbut Tahrir spokesman, Ismail Yusanto, called the government move "baseless." 

"As a legal organization, we have the constitutional right to carry out dakwah [Islamic religious propagation]," which does not conflict with the secular nature of the charter, and the national ideology known as Pancasila.

"We are more nationalist than nationalist parties," he claimed.

A caliphate is part of Islam teaching and they have an obligation to teach about that, Yusanto added.

He said Hizbut Tahrir would fight the dissolution process in court.

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