New Indonesian law empowers communities against extremism, but some fret about rights

Indonesian police escorting senior JI leader Zulkarnaen after his arrival in Soekarno-Hatta airport on Dec 16, 2020.
Indonesian police escorting senior JI leader Zulkarnaen after his arrival in Soekarno-Hatta airport on Dec 16, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - The Indonesia government is pushing back against violent extremism by introducing a presidential regulation to allow civil societies and communities to get empowerment training to help their neighbourhoods.

Aiming to use a softer approach in countering terrorism, local communities for example would be trained to identify vital national infrastructure and other facilities around where they live that are prone to terrorist attacks.

Other programmes propose annual awards to young people who responded fastest to extremist threats.

The 122-page regulation also contains guidelines and action plans aimed at equipping communities to monitor and report any suspicious signs to prevent terrorism.

The "national action plan to prevent and mitigate violence-based extremism that lead to terrorism" followed years of deadly terror attacks in Indonesia by homegrown extremist groups.

The government, in explaining its rationale for the regulation, said: "The country's Constitution mandates the government to ensure that everyone is entitled to having the feeling of security and protection from the threat of fear.

"This regulation does not only target at trigger factors, but also at building community resilience in general to fend off violence based extremism that lean towards terrorism."

But some rights groups are worried that allowing community policing of extremism could lead to wrongful arrests and cause divisions in the communities targeted.

The regulation, signed on Jan 6 by President Joko Widodo, is expected to be the main reference point for ministries and government agencies in their work anti-extremism programmes.

The regulation's Article 8 stipulates that ministries, agencies, provincial and regency governments may work with communities to implement the action plans.

Indonesia saw its deadliest terrorist attack in 2002, with bombings in Bali by South-east Asia's terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) that killed 202 people.

JI, widely believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda, was considered to be behind several other attacks, including the JW Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta in 2003 that killed 12 people.

When JI stepped back, other extremist groups such as Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, stepped up local attacks.

In January 2016, the JAD attacked the Jakarta city centre which led to an hours-long lockdown. Eight people died including the four attackers, and 25 others were injured.

Ms Yenny Wahid, director of moderate Muslim think-tank Wahid Foundation, hailed the new presidential regulation, saying it would facilitate synergy between the government and civil societies in fighting extremism.

"Radicalism and terrorism cannot be dealt with only relying on security approach. Humanity, religion, education approaches are needed. Civil societies can play the best roles here. There are certain corners in the society that the government cannot enter," she said in a statement.

But the deputy director of rights group Setara Institute, Mr Bonar Tigor Naipospos, said it is premature to involve the general public in the community policing of extremism.

He argued that the regulation does not provide a clear definition of extremism, making it open to interpretation, The Jakarta Post daily reported.

The newspaper also cited activists cautioning that the regulation could lead to wrongful arrests and public divisions.