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New Indonesian law expected to hit NGOs strongly in West Papua

Radio New Zealand International - July 22, 2013

Human Rights Watch has voiced alarm at the implications for West Papua from a new law in Indonesia giving the government wide powers to shut down NGOs.

The Law on Mass Organisations imposes a broad range of obligations and prohibitions on NGO activities, and severe limitations on freedom of expression and association.

Johnny Blades asked the deputy director of the Asia division of HRW, Phil Robertson, how the new law will impact in West Papua:

Phil Robertson: This is just going to hit the NGOs in Papua quite strongly because the way that these regulations have been brought out through this law, they are so broad and they are so big that the government of Indonesia can essentially go after anyone they want and make up the reason afterwards. It's a very dangerous law, it's one that isn't necessary, and, frankly, it's one that harks back to a past era of restrictions under President Suharto.

Johnny Blades: The non-government groups, the few that are still in West Papua doing some, I guess, human rights work, you think about some of the churches, they look like they will probably be affected by this demand to adhere to respect for monotheism.

PR: Yes, that's true. It's laid out that the law requires for NGOs to adhere to a respect for monotheism regardless of their religious or secular orientation.

JB: They could end up in prison, some of these guys, it looks like.

PR: Yes, yes. This is basically constructing a very crude instrument that is going to allow the government of Indonesia to go after whoever it wants in civil society for whatever reason they want. I mean, it's basically a blank cheque for government repression of NGO activity in Indonesia.

JB: What do you think is driving this? There had been some real reform, hadn't there, across the rest of Indonesia, apart from West Papua. It seems like a bit of a retrograde step.

PR: Well, I think the Indonesian government has gotten credit where credit was perhaps not due, as being such a broad reformist government. It still contains very conservative army civil servant groups and also, of course, corrupt self-interested politicians. And these groups don't like having NGOs snooping around. They don't like having them going in and working with villagers or other persons who are being displaced from land or having their rights violated. And NGOs are seen as a pesky problem that get in the way with lead interests. So I think what we're seeing is a bit of a counterstrike by these forces of conservatism and by those who benefit from a lack of transparent governance to try to muzzle their critics.

JB: Do you think the anti-Pancasila provisions kind of spell the end game for freedom of belief in West Papua, already, obviously, under strain?

PR: Well, it's going to open people up to charges of going against Pancasila for a number of reasons. Of course, if it's not a recognised religion, that would be against Pancasila. There really is a very, very broad law that is going to cause problems across the board for groups in Papua.