Indonesia mulls over new terror law to jail terror returnees for up to 15 years

Members of the Densus 88 counter-terrorism police cordon off a road as they search a house in Surabaya, East Java province, on June 19, 2017, following the arrest of a man suspected of links with the Islamic State (IS) group.
Members of the Densus 88 counter-terrorism police cordon off a road as they search a house in Surabaya, East Java province, on June 19, 2017, following the arrest of a man suspected of links with the Islamic State (IS) group.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia is set to approve a law allowing authorities to jail for up to 15 years citizens coming home after joining militant groups abroad, lawmakers said on Wednesday (June 21).

The tightening of anti-terrorism laws in the world's largest Muslim-majority country comes as concern grows about the spread of influence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and fears it wants a foothold in South-east Asia as it loses territory in the Middle East.

"The new criminal code adopts the principle of universality, which means that wherever an Indonesian citizen commits a crime, they can be legally processed in Indonesia," said lawmaker Arsul Sani, referring to terrorism. "They can face up to 15 years in prison," he said.

The legislation was likely to be approved in September, legislators said.

Law enforcement agencies have long complained of their inability to deal with people who have travelled abroad to join ISIS and then returned home.

Authorities believe ISIS has thousands of sympathisers in Indonesia.

Hundreds of Indonesian men, women, and children are thought to have travelled to Syria in recent years, and authorities believe about 400 Indonesians have joined ISIS.

Dozens are believed to have returned to South-east Asia.

The region, with a population of about 600 million, has suffered occasional militant attacks over the years since the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

In particular, the Philippines and Indonesia have seen attacks by militants claiming allegiance to Al-Qaeda, and more recently to ISIS.

Government forces in the predominantly Christian Philippines have been battling militants linked to ISIS in a town in its Muslim-majority south for the past month.

In Indonesia, a suicide bomb attack by ISIS-inspired militants at a bus station last month killed three police officers.

Indonesia's tightening of its security laws is part of a revision that President Joko Widodo has urged to meet the new danger.

Changes will broaden the definition of terrorism and give police powers to detain suspects without trial for longer.

Police will also be empowered to arrest people for hate speech or for spreading radical content, as well as those taking part in paramilitary training or joining proscribed groups.

National police chief Tito Karnavian said on Wednesday security has been tightened ahead of this weekend's Eid al-Fitr festival that marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. He said 38 suspected militants had been detained in recent weeks.

Neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore already have tough internal security laws that allow for lengthy detention without trial.

Alarmed by the surge of violence in the southern Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines this week launched joint air and sea patrols to prevent militants from crossing their common borders.