New Indonesian law empowers communities in anti-terror fight

But some rights activists fear such policing could lead to wrongful arrests, divide public

Indonesia is pushing back against violent extremism by introducing a presidential regulation to let civil societies and communities receive empowerment training to help their neighbourhoods.

Aiming for a softer approach in countering terrorism, local communities would, for example, 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 for young people who respond fastest against extremist threats.

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

The "national action plan to prevent and mitigate violence-based extremism that lead to terrorism" follows years of deadly terror attacks in Indonesia by home-grown 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 trigger factors, but also at building community resilience in general to fend off violence-based extremism that leans 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 relevant ministries and government agencies in their work in anti-extremism programmes.

Article 8 in the regulation stipulates that the relevant 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 by South-east Asia's terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) that killed 202 people in Bali.

JI, which is widely believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda, was considered to be responsible for 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 has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, had stepped up local attacks.

In January 2016, 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 the moderate Muslim think-tank Wahid Foundation, has 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.

However, Mr Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy director of the Setara Institute rights group, 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 who cautioned that the regulation could lead to wrongful arrests and public divisions.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2021, with the headline New Indonesian law empowers communities in anti-terror fight. Subscribe