INDONESIA: New law restricts rights to association, expression, and religion

Summary: A new law in Indonesia places unnecessary and onerous restrictions on the activities of NGOs, Human Rights Watch reports. Indonesia’s donors should press the Indonesian government to amend the law to ensure basic freedoms and a vibrant civil society.

On July 2, 2013, Indonesia’s parliament enacted the Law on Mass Organizations (“NGO law”) in the face of outspoken opposition from religious groups, labor unions, human rights organizations, and environmental groups.

Provisions of the NGO law infringe upon the rights to freedom of association, expression, and religion, and provide the government wide latitude to obstruct NGO work. The law imposes a variety of vague obligations and prohibitions on NGO activities, and severe limitations on the creation of foreign-funded organizations.

“The NGO law is a throwback to the repressive Suharto era by subjecting the activities of civil society groups to excessive and unpredictable government control,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “Indonesia’s NGOs play a vital role in the country’s development and should be nurtured, not stifled, by government regulation.”

After more than three decades of authoritarian rule ending with the fall of Suharto in 1998, Indonesia now has a vibrant civil society with thousands of NGOs working in fields from development to human rights. The new law contains numerous restrictions embodied in a 1985 law, the Law on Social Organizations, passed during the Suharto dictatorship, but which have largely not been enforced since then.

The new law requires all NGOs to apply through the Home Affairs Ministry for official approval to operate. The law does not provide any details about the official approval application process, timelines for official approval, or penalties for noncompliance.

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