Proposed bill in Indonesia threatens freedom of religion and association – UN

A group of United Nations independent experts today 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 use of such a system could infringe on the autonomy of civil society organizations and on their rights to privacy and freedom of expression,” said the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue. “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 the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. The bill, which is due to be voted on later this week, 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. The Special Rapporteurs said they stand ready to provide technical assistance to Indonesia to ensure the bill meets international law standards. Special rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.