Indonesia’s security reforms
At odds over dealing with intolerance and terrorism
Nov 26th 2011 | JAKARTA | from the print edition
THE world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia, has long had a problem in some parts of the archipelago with religious extremism, intolerance and the sort of terrorism that can flow from both. The country has had a good deal of success in combating Islamist terrorism since the bombings on the island of Bali in 2002, which killed 202 people. But continuing suicide-bomb attacks and the discovery of terrorist training-camps suggest that Indonesia remains in danger. Judging by recent events, however, the country has yet to develop a clear strategy to deal with the threat. Too often, different bits of the state give out different, even contradictory, signals. The result is a dangerous muddle.
Thus on October 12th lawmakers at last passed a new security bill, the Law on State Intelligence. This was the culmination of years of debate, in many ways a tribute to Indonesia’s vibrant new democracy. Legislators wanted to produce a bill that sharpened the effectiveness of the country’s multitude of intelligence and anti-terrorist agencies without encroaching too much on hard-won civil rights. In the end, the law redefined the roles of those agencies, strengthening their powers to intervene against “opponents” working against the “national interest”. A tough new stance from the state, it might seem. Indeed, just the sort of law that might have made it easier to gather evidence against people such as Abu Bakar Basyir, a notorious radical cleric. At the conclusion of the latest case against him in June, Mr Basyir was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a district court for inciting terrorism and funding terrorist cells.
Yet only two weeks after the new law was passed the high court in Jakarta, the capital, decided on appeal to reduce by six years the sentence handed out to Mr Basyir by the lower court, partly as “an act of humanity” for the “elderly” (73-year-old) man. This follows previous court cases in which Mr Basyir either avoided a guilty verdict altogether or had light sentences reduced. Furthermore, his lawyers will now petition the Supreme Court to strike down the remaining nine years. They must have every chance of success.
Well-meaning parliamentarians can legislate all they like, it seems, but if the courts do not mete out sufficient punishment then the state will remain ineffective. Take another case. In February three members of a peaceful Islamic movement, the Ahmadiyah, considered heretical by orthodox Muslims, were beaten and hacked to death in broad daylight by a frenzied mob in west Java. Their end was caught on film. Despite the extraordinary violence, in August the perpetrators were handed down only token prison sentences, ranging from three to five months. There was an outcry, but the sentences stood. The guilty are now all free, including one 17-year-old treated as a hero on his return home.
The government seems helpless; ministers merely talk of respecting the independence of the courts. Yet an unreformed judiciary seems to be dominated by religious conservatives, within a nominally secular state, or judges who fear Islamist radicals. The feebleness of the response to the murders of the three Ahmadis seems to have encouraged others. Since February several more vicious attacks on Ahmadi houses have taken place. Provincial governments have even passed decrees, yet to be challenged in court, banning all Ahmadiyah activities.
The teenage thuggery of the Ahmadiyah case and the relative sophistication of the terrorism that Mr Basyir is accused of orchestrating have a direct link. Once launched on his trajectory of violence, today’s thug can readily be converted into tomorrow’s terrorist. Andreas Harsono of the local office of Human Rights Watch argues that the anti-Ahmadiyah campaign is now being used for exactly this purpose, that is, to motivate and recruit young extremists. Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, says that rather than focusing on new legislation, the government needs to design a well-funded and comprehensive programme, involving better police training and community work, to prevent extremism spreading in the first place.
To complicate matters further, the government’s showpiece Law on State Intelligence will probably end up in court itself. A coalition of human-rights organisations has vowed to challenge it in the Constitutional Court. Despite its efforts to balance the demands of security against civil rights, they argue that too much power is being taken from the police and handed to military intelligence, with little judicial oversight. They also argue that the definition of national security is too broad. It could be used to target separatists with legitimate political arguments, such as in West Papuam, for instance. There, a cack-handed attempt to break up a political rally left several dead on October 19th.
Clearly, a balance needs to be struck between effective legislation, the protection of hard-won rights and action against religious extremism. Regrettably, Indonesia still seems a fair way off from striking it.
from the print edition | Asia
Monday, 28 November 2011
Indonesia’s security reforms: Unholy muddle | The Economist