Jakarta to pass preventive detention laws soon

An armed policeman standing guard in Jakarta on Jan 22, 2016.
An armed policeman standing guard in Jakarta on Jan 22, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Revisions to anti-terror Bill will allow police to detain suspects for up to six months

The Indonesian authorities will soon be able to hold suspects involved in plans to mount a terror attack for up to six months, once a preventive detention law is passed as early as April. This would be the first time since the fall of former president Suharto in 1998 that Indonesia will see such a law enacted.

The legislation is part of sweeping changes to the country's anti- terror Bill, being proposed in the wake of the Jan 14 attack in Jakarta.

Revisions to the law will also finally make it an offence for citizens to join a militant group overseas - such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - as well as better define what constitutes an act of terrorism.

The final draft of the Bill, seen by The Straits Times on Friday, was approved by President Joko Widodo and submitted to Parliament for ratification some time last week.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said he expects Parliament to push through the revisions within the next two months.

"When ratified, we will be able to conduct pre-emptive measures, carry out a deterrent strategy and contain terrorism," he said.

There are currently no preventive detention laws in Indonesia, but the new Bill will allow police to hold extremists linked to terror plots for up to six months as a preventive measure.

It will also extend the number of days that a suspect can be detained for questioning from seven days to a maximum of 30 days.

Other changes include new provisions for counter-terrorism forces to execute raids and arrest terror suspects for interrogation based solely on intelligence reports.

Mr Luhut said the revisions proposed by the government are aimed at beefing up the anti-terrorism law - introduced in 2003 after the Bali bombings a year earlier.

The police have pinned the recent attack on a recalcitrant Islamic ideologue named Aman Abdurrahman, now serving time in prison for his role in setting up a militant training camp in Aceh in 2009. Aman is the leader and mentor of the four attackers, whom he had influenced to embrace the ISIS cause.

To stem the tide of citizens joining such terror groups, the new law will, among other things, provide courts with powers to jail members of terror organisations, or their recruiters, for up to seven years.

Indonesia is under pressure to strengthen its anti-terror laws following last month's siege on Jakarta, which left eight dead. But human rights advocates have voiced concern. Mr Phelim Kine from Human Rights Watch has called for the government to "ensure that measures to keep people safe don't trample on basic rights such as freedom of expression and association".

Dr Damien Cheong from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) said the new Bill is unlikely to encounter resistance from lawmakers. "Most will endorse the amendments - subject to the inclusion of appropriate checks and balances - to support the Widodo government's move to beef up legislation to fight terror."

However, the research fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security at RSIS believes the new Bill will present fresh challenges.

"For instance, is Indonesia's prison system equipped to house an increased number of detainees, do they have a robust deradicalisation programme, and do they have qualified prison officers to run those programmes?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta to pass preventive detention laws soon'. Print Edition | Subscribe