The counter-terrorism landscape in Southeast Asia has fundamentally changed over
the 15 years since Indonesia’s anti-terrorism laws were originally enacted. The emergence of a
self-declared ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria energised a new generation of Indonesia’s
Islamists, with more than 500 Indonesians travelling to ISIS controlled lands and
returning – many in family groups.
The appeal of global Islamist ideology has radicalised young Indonesians via social media, without the need for travel or formal membership of Islamist organisations.
With advances in communications technology, the appeal of global Islamist
ideology has radicalised young Indonesians via social media, without the
need for travel or formal membership of Islamist organisations.
A January 2016 rampage in central Jakarta, coordinated by Syrian-based
ISIS operative Bahrum Naim and leader of Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), Aman Abdurrahman, dramatically underlined the danger.
Yet it was the five-month siege of Marawi in the southern Philippines in 2017
by ISIS-linked militants that crystallised the threat posed to the region.
The example set by the Maute group’s seizure of an urban centre in Mindanao
presented a dangerous new prospect for Indonesia, prompting Jakarta and
its regional partners to expedite a range of new intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism arrangements.
But even so, an effort by the President Joko Widodo to revise the
2003 anti-terrorism law to enhance its pre-emptive and preventive powers had
languished for two years. The changes first sought in 2016 had become entangled
in the increasing politicisation of Islam in Indonesia. It was a debate that illustrated the potent mix of populism and religion.
Islamic identity embraced
Under the 32 year Suharto New Order regime in Indonesia, Islamic political parties
in the country were emasculated and radical Islamists either eliminated by the armed
forces or forced to flee overseas. Successive New Order governments banned the
Islamic headscarf or hijab (jilbab) in both public schools and the civil service.
In Indonesia’s post-authoritarian socio-political context, however, Islamic identity
has been increasingly embraced. With this has come a growing intolerance and
pressure to conform, particularly on women.
For women’s civil society in Indonesia, the concern has been less about
terrorist attacks, but more the increasing pressure, intimidation and coercion
designed to restrict women’s agency and autonomy.
When the anti-terrorism law was before the legislature, women’s organisations
noted attempts by some factions, particularly the conservative Justice and Prosperity
Party (PKS), to further erode women’s rights.
In comparison to the 2003 law, the revised bill underwent a more extensive
consultation and deliberation process, not just among the various political factions
represented in the legislature (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR), but including
women’s groups, the academe, religious groups and civil society organisations.
Many non-government stakeholders were keen to ensure both the law met
contemporary human rights standards and did not privilege repressive measures
above the reintegration and rehabilitation of extremists.
Among the most contentious articles included the so-called “Guantanamo Article”,
which provided for powers of arrest and detention without warrant for up to
six months. Equally, both the electronic surveillance measures and planned
revocation of citizenship for convicted terrorists on top of their prison sentences,
The citizenship article was later revoked as it contravened Indonesia’s citizenship law.
Other articles were amended on expert advice, but the irony in a death penalty
sanction for Islamists who sought glory as martyrs was not excised from the revised law.
Delays were also a consequence of political machinations. From November 2016,
revisions to the anti-terrorism law were increasingly caught up in the charged
political atmosphere of the Jakarta gubernatorial elections.
The election period and in the months preceding it, had seen a significant uptick
in organised hate speech toward minority groups, such as Chinese, Christians,
and more liberal proponents of Islam. Opponents used blasphemy charges
under Indonesia’s criminal code to derail the chances of ethnic Chinese
incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja (Ahok) Purnama, who in May 2017 was sentenced to
two years’ imprisonment.
Opposition to Ahok involved the mobilisation, some of it spontaneous,
most of it organised, of hundreds of thousands of protestors by hardline Islamic groups
such as the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) and National Fatwa Guard Movement
of the Council of Indonesian Ulema (GNPF-MUI) in November and December 2016.
As elite machinations intensified and rumours swirled about the loyalty of
senior Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) commanders, concerns rose in the
executive about the nation’s stability and cohesion. Within this heated political
context, revisions of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism law proved highly contentious.
The conservative opposition faction in the legislature, comprised of PKS and the
larger nationalist Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), was concerned
that the law should not become an instrument for the oppression of Islam or indeed,
be used to thwart their own political agendas; particularly given the purported links
between Gerindra and Islamist militia fomenting the anti-Ahok protests.
There was also a sense in quarters of the government, security forces, and civil
society that the sympathies of conservative legislators were aligned closely
with radical Islamic groups and their agendas.
It was the definition of terrorism and by extension, the security forces’ role in
counter-terrorism, however, which proved most contentious. The Gerindra faction
had proposed that the definition of terrorism include specific reference to “ideological
and political motives”, arguing it would limit the potential for excess by security forces.
Yet this qualifying phrase was widely opposed – a member of the legislature’s
expert team from the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), Poltak Partogi
Nainggolan, characterised the additional phrase as unnecessarily complicating
and claimed it would make it harder for the judiciary to prove ideological motive.
A stalemate ensued. The legislature and executive could not resolve differences
over the definition. It lasted right up to 13 May this year, when Indonesia woke
to the news of three successive suicide bombings of churches in the country’s
second largest city of Surabaya, perpetrated by one family.
No-one could have foreseen a situation where extremists would transform their
own children into improvised explosive devices.