Softening convicted hardliners after they leave jail

An Indonesian anti-terrorism policemen stand guard at the Bali bombing 2002 memorial in Indonesia, on Jan 22, 2016.
An Indonesian anti-terrorism policemen stand guard at the Bali bombing 2002 memorial in Indonesia, on Jan 22, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA • Life is not easy for convicted militants like Machmudi Hariono when they walk out of prison in Indonesia.

Barred from most jobs, shunned by society, Hariono's debts piled up until an outreach programme working with reformed militants got him a kitchen job in a small cafe.

Today the 40-year-old manages several businesses, including a car rental service, and is "at peace", having found a new calling.

"It will erase the old you," Hariono told AFP from Solo, a city in central Java that is a hotbed for extremism. "You will find a new life."

Programmes aimed at deradicalising hardliners have taken many forms in Indonesia, from gardening classes run behind bars to family reunions organised by not-for-profit groups.

But in the aftermath of this month's deadly Jakarta attack, hard questions are being asked about the government's efforts to tackle radicalism in prison, after the police revealed that one of the gunmen was a previously jailed militant lured to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria while behind bars.

Indonesia has no formal programme for monitoring militants once they are released from prison, something President Joko Widodo has pledged to address since the Jakarta attack.

The police deradicalisation efforts are focused on prisons, and tactics have changed over the years.

In the past, cooperative inmates were offered better food or extensive family visits. Today, classes on nationalism, religion and even gardening are being employed to soften hardliners.

But government efforts are often rushed, formalised and lack the personal touch, said Ms Alijah Diete, a case worker who has spent years helping recently released militants through a not-for-profit group.

Once outside prison, it is these non-government organisations that step in, and experience suggests their engagement at this vulnerable stage is working, albeit on a small scale. Of the 35 militants Ms Diete has assisted, only five have returned to their militant comrades.

Ms Diete has helped militants find jobs, provided small loans to kick-start businesses and worked successfully with their families - particularly their wives - to persuade them against reconnecting with familiar old networks.

"One thing I've learnt is that it is extremely difficult to separate these people from their groups," she said.

"We have to show them a new way of thinking, befriend them, but it all takes time."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'Softening convicted hardliners after they leave jail'. Print Edition | Subscribe