JAKARTA • Indonesia plans to disband the local branch of radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, as concerns grow about hardliners in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.
Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which calls for Islamic law and wants to unify all Muslims into a caliphate, has been operating for decades in Indonesia and has a large following.
While most people in Indonesia practise a moderate form of Islam, fears have been growing about the influence of radicals - particularly after mass protests last year against Jakarta's Christian governor which were led by hardliners.
In announcing the plan to disband the group, Chief Security Minister Wiranto said yesterday that HTI's "activities... could threaten public security and order and endanger the unity of Indonesia".
He said the authorities would go to court to get the group dissolved but insisted that the decision did not mean the government was against all Muslim organisations.
(HTI's) activities... could threaten public security and order and endanger the unity of Indonesia.
INDONESIAN CHIEF SECURITY MINISTER WIRANTO
HTI, which has branches around the world, is already banned in several countries. It could not immediately be reached for comment.
HTI regularly stages protests, and some of its members were involved in the protests against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - better known as Ahok. The group also often demonstrates against the United States.
Basuki last month lost the election for the next Jakarta governor to Muslim challenger Anies Baswedan after the mass protests, which were triggered by claims that he had insulted the Quran. He was put on trial for blasphemy over the allegations and is due to be sentenced today.
Now that the election is over, many moderate Muslim leaders say they are treating it as a wake-up call about the growing power of Indonesian hardline organisations and the need to take action to stop them.
"I am not worried about the candidates who won," said Mr Sidarto Danusobroto, a former Speaker of the Senate and key presidential adviser. "I am worried about the groups that supported them - the Islamic Defenders Front and HTI."
Thanks to the election campaign, hardline Islamist groups have gained stature; their ability to mobilise huge crowds was considered crucial to securing Mr Anies' victory in the contest with Ahok.
But a strong backlash also has emerged, led by moderate Muslims who worry that conservative Islamists are wrecking Indonesia's tradition of religious tolerance.
The high-stakes election campaign was marked by the largest conservative Islamist rallies in generations, as well as by intensifying - and controversial - legal efforts by the Indonesian government to rein in the hardline groups' leadership.
"Islam is different from how the Islamic Defenders Front portrays it," said Mr Mohammad Nuruzzaman, head of strategic research for Ansor, a moderate Muslim youth movement that has been working with the police to break up hardline Muslim gatherings.
In one effort in the past few weeks to curb extremists, police officials and nationalist groups in the central Javanese town of Semarang prevented the Islamic Defenders Front from opening a branch.
"We have a tolerant city," explained Mr Iwan Santoso, a representative from the Red and White, a group that takes its name from the colours of the Indonesian flag.
"We don't want students to be instigated."
And last week, police in East Java, apparently acting on the urging of moderate Muslims or nationalists, shut down a planned university event featuring Mr Felix Siauw, a Chinese Indonesian convert to Islam who has become a major hardline preacher.
Mr Nuruzzaman compared such organisations to the Indonesian Communist Party, a bogeyman from Indonesia's past.
"The goal of communists and those who support the caliphate are similar - both want all countries in the world to be run under one system," he said.
However, some rights activists oppose banning the group. Mr Andreas Harsono, Indonesia representative of Human Rights Watch, said that although HTI's ideology is deeply discriminatory - towards women, homosexuals and minority faiths - that does not mean the organisation should be shut down.
More worrying to Mr Harsono are the Indonesian government's efforts to pursue radical religious leaders for alleged offences unrelated to their Islamist activism, or on exaggerated charges.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST