Indonesia plans tougher anti-terrorism laws after Jakarta attack

Indonesian soldiers stand guard near the site where an explosion went off in Jakarta, Indonesia Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016.

Indonesian soldiers stand guard near the site where an explosion went off in Jakarta, Indonesia Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016.

Indonesia has drawn up plans for tougher anti-terrorism laws following last month’s militant attack on the capital, including detention without trial for up to three months compared with a week now, government sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

The proposals are likely to draw fire from human rights activists, who have warned against jeopardizing hard-won freedoms over nearly two decades since the end of authoritarian president Suharto’s rule.

However, officials anticipate little opposition in parliament to the legislation, which would not be as strict as counter-terrorism laws passed in recent years by neighbors Australia and Malaysia.

President Joko Widodo’s government moved quickly to reform the country’s 2003 anti-terrorism law after Jan. 14, when four men attacked Jakarta’s business district with guns and explosives. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault, in which the militants and four others died.

Details of the overhaul have been kept confidential, but two government sources with direct knowledge of the draft law said it would broaden the definition of terrorism and make it easier to both arrest and detain suspects.

The sources declined to be named because the legislation, which could be passed within the next few months, is still under consideration by parliament, where Widodo enjoys strong cross-party support.

“The new definition of terrorism includes the possession, distribution and trade of any weapons … or potential material that can be used as weapons for terrorism acts,” said one.

Evidence in court

The maximum period allowed for detention without trial will be lifted to 90 days and for preventive detention to 120 days, both from a current limit of one week.

The law will also allow authorities to target anyone who recruits members for, or cooperates with a militant group, and to use electronic communications, intelligence reports and financial transactions as evidence in court against suspects.

Indonesians who have joined militant training or participated in terrorist acts in a foreign country will be stripped of their citizenship.

Security officials say about 500 Indonesians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the radical group Islamic State and they estimate that about one in five of these has returned, although most did not see frontline combat.

Over the past two months, Indonesian counter-terrorism forces have arrested dozens of men suspected of plotting attacks on government targets and major landmarks, and last week seven men were jailed for being sympathizers of Islamic State.

But police have long complained that even when they are aware of radical activities, they are unable to detain known militants unless they threaten or actually carry out an attack.

The new law will allow the arrest of people merely “if they assemble to discuss terrorist and radical acts”.

The International Commission of Jurists last month urged the government not to undermine the process of justice by making it easier for authorities to arrest people irrespective of whether there is sufficient evidence of criminal activity.

Others are more strict

Elsewhere in the region, counter-terrorism measures have been more far-reaching.

Malaysia last April reintroduced a law under which individuals can be detained without trial for up to two years with two-year extensions thereafter.

Australia has in recent years passed measures banning its citizens from returning from conflict zones in Syria and the Middle East, while making it easier to monitor domestic communications.

Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslims and the vast majority of its 250 million people practice a moderate form of Islam.

However, the Southeast Asian country saw a spate of attacks in the 2000s, the deadliest of which was a nightclub bombing on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people.

Police have been largely successful in destroying domestic militant cells since then, but officials have grown increasingly concerned about a resurgence inspired by Islamic State and officials say homegrown radicals are regrouping.

Security experts say one problem is that high-security prisons have become breeding grounds for militants, with radical clerics being able to preach and communicate with followers from behind bars.

The government sources said one of the legislative changes proposed involves segregating prisoners convicted of terrorism from other inmates to minimise radicalization in prisons.

Terrorism convicts will also be separated into three categories: masterminds or those involved in planning attacks, those involved in executing plans, and followers.


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