In the second part of an exclusive interview, Indonesia’s counterterrorism chief describes ways about how Indonesian law and prison facilities make his job tougher.
A great weakness of the Indonesian legal system is that it does not authorise action against the “spiritual mentors” of militants, Ansyaad Mbai, head of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), told Khabar Southeast Asia in an exclusive interview last week.
To address that weakness, the government is preparing an amendment to the 2003 anti-terrorism law, Ansyaad said in a wide-ranging discussion on security issues in which he described ongoing obstacles to fighting terrorism, as well as concrete actions his agency is taking.
The legal protection of hate speech, poor prison facilities and a too-soft approach to terrorism convicts are among the obstacles outlined by the counterterrorism chief.
Rooting out radical ideology will be a long-term effort requiring broad support from civil society and moderate clergy, he said. Many former militants are co-operating with the effort, what he called one of the most effective methods of stemming radicalisation.
Free speech, or hate speech?
The recent arrests of some more than ten terror suspects in Solo suggest that the city remains a focus of illegal activity, despite concerted efforts to stomp out terrorism.
Terrorism persists in the central Javanese city because there are so many ideological figures or “spiritual mentors” who still actively preach radical messages there, Ansyaad said.
“Unfortunately, the Indonesian legal system has not yet categorised those activities as criminal actions. It’s what I consider a great weakness of our legal system” he told Khabar.
“Actually many religious leaders have urged us to take serious actions against the figures who are actively spreading hatred and enmity in the name of religion. But we do not have the authority to do so,” he explained.
“Those hate-filled speeches are still categorised as freedom of speech.” Ansyaad added that Indonesia is currently finalising a draft amendment of 2003 Anti-terrorism law that would add hate speech activity as a criminal action. “By adding the hate speech as criminal activity, we can be more proactive in countering terrorism. It is because that (hate speech) is actually the first step of the radicalism process and terrorism,” he said.
Radicalised in prison
Indonesian law also mandates a “soft approach” in handling terror detainees, he said. For example, infamous firebrand cleric and convicted terrorist Abu Bakar Bashir has never been compelled to wear a prison uniform, and is able to continue preaching from prison.
“So we have not only a soft approach, but a too-soft approach,” he said. Ansyaad admitted that Indonesia faces a challenge in curbing the spread of militant ideology in its overburdened prisons.
In March, counterterrorism forces shot dead five suspects believed to have been planning a series of attacks in Bali, which this week marks the tenth anniversary of the worst-ever terrorism attacks on Indonesian soil, the 2002 bombings in Kuta.
Three of the five suspects were former drug dealers who were radicalised by Bali bombers Imam Samudra and Amrozi in Kerobokan prison.
“It is indeed one of our biggest obstacles, minimal facilities that become overloaded. It’s a dilemma,” he said. “If we place all the terrorists in one block, then they will reunite. But if the terrorists are placed with non-terrorists, the non-terrorist can become a terrorist.”
Even if Indonesia were to isolate terrorists in a single facility, it would still be necessary to separate the high-risk prisoners from the low-risk ones, he said.
“So prisons keep trying to improve, but with limited facilities,” he said.
Reaching the ‘brother community’
The national deradicalisation programme Indonesia is currently developing has two main targets: terrorists in prison or police custody, and the broader “brother community” that provides support for terrorists.
“The first objective has been achieved in many countries. But the second objective, targeting the brother community, is a big job and require a long-term strategy,” he said. “We need the involvement of moderate religious leaders and also non-governmental organisations.”
A main goal of the effort is to neutralise radical messages about the meaning of jihad and the treatment of non-believers, for example. A key strategy will be to use former militants to denounce terrorism.
“Experience has shown, the best way to catch a thief is by using a thief. The fact that terrorists complain about this tactic shows that it is effective,” he said.
More than 50 former Indonesian militants who trained in Afghanistan have agreed to co-operate in a BNPT deradicalisation programme, visiting 14 prisons in ten big cities throughout the country “to convince others that what they were doing was wrong,” he said.
“We need more and more like them,” he said. “The more ex-terrorists who oppose terrorism, the better. And certainly that will make terrorists complain,” he said.
For the first part of the interview with Ansyaad, click here.