In the wake of terror attacks that rocked the city of Surabaya in May 2018, Indonesia’s parliament has unanimously passed an amendment to its antiterrorism law. Initially proposed in 2016, the law was put on hold after the parliament members could not agree on what constitutes terrorism. President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) had threatened to issue a government in lieu of law (perrpu) if the parliament could not pass the law by June. The new law provides the law enforcers with greater powers to carry out their duties.
Rights groups have argued that the new law would undermine human rights in the country. In an open letter to Indonesia’s House of Representative, Amnesty International expresses its concerns about the new antiterrorism law. Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasona Laoly maintains that the new law is in line with human rights standards. Antiterrorism laws and policies have always been a contentious subject, particularly with respect to human rights.
While the new antiterrorism law serves as an essential legal foundation to improve the law enforcers’ capacity in combating terrorism, Indonesia must seriously improve its “soft power” measures to counter the spread of hardline ideologies that often translate to terror attacks.
The Rise of Terror Attacks and Religious Incidents in Indonesia
The deadliest terrorist incident in Indonesia occurred in 2002 when a Jihadist detonated a bomb at a nightclub in Bali, killing at least 200 people and injuring 200 more. Many of those who were killed in the explosion were foreigners, putting Indonesia in an international spotlight. Shortly thereafter, terrorism became the main security concern for Indonesia’s government.
After a decade of considerable success in counterterrorism measures, Indonesia saw a resurgence of terror attacks. Many of these attacks were inspired by ISIS. Since 2013, there have been at least 930 Indonesians who have travelled to Syria to join ISIS, including women and children. According to Moeldoko, the Chief of Staff of the Presidency, there are currently 590 Indonesian Jihadists in Syria, while 86 of them have returned home.
The recent attacks on churches in Surabaya that killed 26 people and injured at least 50 were also ISIS-affiliated. The Surabaya attacks marked a shift in the nature of terrorism in Indonesia. In the past, the perpetrators had all been men; whilst in Surabaya, women and children were involved in the attacks. This has never been seen before. What the Surabaya attacks indicate is that hardline ideologies have become appealing to not only adult men but also women and children.
Indonesia has been praised for its “moderate” version of Islam, where Muslims embrace elements of Buddhism, Hinduism, and animism while living relatively peacefully with other religious groups. However, Indonesia’s moderate Islam has dwindled in recent years. A study by The Wahid Institute found that 60 percent of high students in Indonesia would join violent jihadist movements. The PEW Research also found that 72 percent of Indonesians are in favor of making sharia the law of the land.
These developments indicate that Indonesia has gradually become a fertile ground for hardline ideologies that often translate into violent acts.
Tougher Anti Terrorism Law
There are several key aspects of the new law that will improve antiterrorism measures in Indonesia.
First, the new law expands Indonesia’s definition of terrorism. Under the new law, terrorism constitutes “the use of violence or threats to inflict a widespread terror and fear, that could lead to considerable loss of lives and/or destruction of strategic vital objects, environment, and public/international properties with political/ideological motives.”
Second, the new law extends the detention period from seven to fourteen days before a person is identified as a terrorist suspect, and extends the pre-trial detention period from six months to nine months, without the court’s approval.
Third, the new law grants the Indonesian military (TNI) a direct involvement in antiterrorism activities. However, TNI may only participate in antiterrorism activities when it is requested by the police and approved by the president.
In light of concerns over human rights violations, Indonesia’s lawmakers incorporated several articles that would govern the adherence to human rights principles. For example, article 25 subparagraphs 7 and 8 stipulate that the detention of suspected terrorists must be carried out while upholding human rights principles and any official who violates these standards would be prosecuted according to law.
Will The Law Be Enough To Prevent Future Attacks?
Tougher antiterrorism legislation is only one facet of a broader counterterrorism strategy. The government of Indonesia must also intensify its de-radicalization measures. During a meeting at the State Palace, Jokowi has indicated his commitment to balancing “hard power” and “soft power” approaches, without providing further details on what this soft power entails.
However, to mitigate the spread of radical ideologies, Indonesia must first ensure that its deradicalization programs targets not only men who have been engaged with militant groups, but also their families and close affiliates. As the Surabaya attacks demonstrated, women, children, affiliates of those former jihadists are also prone to committing terror attacks.
In addition to educating and integrating former jihadists and their affiliates, the government must address the spread of radical ideologies in Indonesia’s educational institutions, particularly in private Islamic schools.
Finally, the government must continue to work with moderate Islamic groups such as the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah to promote and re-invigorate “moderate” Islam, the Islam that had been thriving in the archipelago for centuries.