Papuan 'separatists' vs Jihadi 'terrorists': Indonesian policy dilemmas
Sidney Jones | 22 Jan 2013
Lecture by Sidney Jones at International Policy Studies program of Stanford University, 5 December 2012, as amended 22 January 2013.
The idea for this talk came about when I realised that jihadis and Papuans fighting for independence from Indonesia were committing the same kinds of crimes but being charged very differently, and that each was watching and selectively interpreting news about the other. The comparison raises questions about what terrorism is and what governments do about it; it also provides some interesting insights into the evolution of extremist organisations.
First, some background: we’ve had some major changes in the jihadi movement over the last five years, and particularly since 2009, all but one of those killed by jihadists or in terrorist attacks in Indonesia have been police: ten in 2010, three in 2011 and eight in 2012. With the decline of JI and its rejection of violence, at least on Indonesian soil, a wide range of smaller groups has grown up that have in common small numbers, low capacity, limited training, an inability to keep secrets and deep antipathy toward police.
Why the police? There are several reasons: an ideological shift toward domestic targets; rejection of al-Qaeda style bombings because they killed too many Muslims; the need for weapons – but most of all, revenge for the deaths of fellow mujahidin.
Every jihadi involved in a police shooting in any capacity – from providing the gun to helping suspects flee to actual involvement in violence – has been accused of terrorism, but the sentences are relatively lenient. The lead gunman involved in a May 2011 attack that killed two police got 14 years but a man who helped kill two police in April 2010 in Java only got six.
In Papua, attacks on police and military are a standard tactic of the OPM insurgency, as they are with most nationalist insurgencies. We’ve had 37 attacks on police since 2010 with 11 fatalities, including three in late November. Motivations are to gain support, get guns and demonstrate leadership. When the perpetrators are caught, which is rare, they get the book thrown at them. A group involved in the killing of two soldiers and the theft of guns in Wamena in 2003 got 18 years to life; the men involved in killing security officers at a demonstration in Abepura in 2006 got 15 years. A six-year sentence in Papua for a crime involving the death of a policeman would be unthinkable.
It used to be that jihadis saw the creation of fear as a very specific objective. One man involved in the 2004 Australian embassy bombing, when asked what his aim was, said, “We wanted to make Western nations tremble.” The aim now isn’t that cosmic; it’s much more instrumental. It’s about getting weapons, taking revenge, and giving militants something to do, particularly after they’ve undergone training. While the attacks are sometimes couched – usually after the fact -- in terms of moving against thaghut (anti-Islamic oppressors supported by the West), that kind of rationalisation is less frequent these days. The main aim of killing police is certainly not to create fear.
At the same time, some units of the OPM and an extremist faction of KNPB, the West Papua National Committee, a militant pro-independence organisation composed largely of activists from the central highlands, have moved toward more consciously creating a sense of fear in particular communities. They are not just going after police and military but also after civilians, including non-Papuan Indonesian migrants, workers for the gigantic gold and copper mine, Freeport; and most recently tourists.
The OPM unit responsible for the Freeport shootings (18 shooting incidents with three fatalities from late 2009-early 2010, and 12 shootings with 10 fatalities between October 2011 and Feb 2012) appears to have wanted to terrify the company into shutting down and leaving Papua. Many Papuans believe the army was providing support to shooters to create conditions to make the police look bad and force Freeport to hire more military as supplemental security, but there is little hard evidence to support this. The non-fatal shooting of the German tourist in Jayapura this past May seems to have been the work of an extremist faction of the KNPB, led by Mako Tabuni, who was later shot and killed by police. Three men have been arrested and charged -- but with manslaughter, not terrorism. And when bomb-making material was found at the KNPB secretariat in Wamena in late September, the nine men arrested were charged under a law banning the possession, transfer, sale or use of explosives – not under the terrorism law.
No one has been caught in the Freeport shootings, although some have been identified. The government reportedly has held back security forces from going after the OPM unit in question, fearing more deaths and another round of negative international publicity about Papua.
By contrast, when Detachment 88, the police counter-terror unit, goes after jihadis, even amid allegations of excessive use of force, the Indonesian government generally earns praise. When Indonesian president Yudhoyono announced Dulmatin’s death in the Australian parliament while on a state visit in March 2010, everyone broke into applause. There are clear incentives for treating the two cases differently, but it may be becoming politically harder to do so. Let’s look at why.
II. State Response
From its creation, shortly after the 2002 Bali bombing, Detachment 88 made clear that it considered terrorism to fall into two categories: radical Islamist, and ethno-nationalist/separatist. This latter category included GAM, the Acehnese insurgents who in 2000 had bombed the Jakarta stock exchange; the OPM, which occasionally mounted attacks on migrants and on a few occasion had taken Westerners hostage for political effect more than ransom; and a largely insignificant movement in Maluku. (In fact, one of the first groups to be charged with terrorism was the five-member GAM negotiating panel arrested in May 2003 when a cessation of hostilities agreement for Aceh broke down and martial law was imposed.)
In late 2011, when I questioned the desirability of using the terrorist label against groups that the government might want to negotiate with at some stage, a police official wrote:
1) Terrorism is a tactic using violence/threats with civilians as targets and with a political or ideological motive. So actions of this nature, regardless of religion, race, nationality and so forth, can’t be tolerated, including by separatist groups.
2) If those considered terrorists are restricted to Islamic groups like JI it will be very dangerous because it will reinforce the opinion that the issue of terrorism is only being use to weaken and make war on Islam, and then the Muslim majority’s support for efforts to combat terrorism will weaken.
But in fact, the only time terrorism charges have been brought against non-Muslims was when 17 Christians were arrested in central Sulawesi in 2006 for lynching two Muslim traders as retaliation for the judicial execution of three Christian men accused of participation in a massacre at an Islamic school in Poso. The prosecutor was preparing a case against them for assault and murder, when at the last minute she got word from her boss that the charges would be changed to terrorism to ensure “balance” – and they got heavier sentences than many of those charged with al-Qaeda style terror attacks against hotels.
We have seen the intelligence and investigation skills of Detachment 88 – and occasionally local police assigned to the unit -- used in Papua against the OPM and in Aceh against a death squad unit linked to GAM that killed Javanese workers in December 2011in an effort to create conditions of insecurity that would force a delay in local elections. In Papua, however, no one to date has been charged with terrorism.
In the meantime, exactly what the police official cited above feared is happening: the broader Muslim community is accusing Detachment 88 of an anti-Muslim bias, precisely because they are not using terrorism charges against Papuans.
- No less a figure than Abu Bakar Ba’asyir noted that the KNPB men arrested for explosives possession in October were not charged with terrorism, while if they had been Muslim, they surely would have been.
- Ismail Ysuanto, the spokesman for Hizbut Tahrir pointed out that the OPM constituted a clear threat to the Indonesian state so why weren’t Detachment 88 forces focusing their attention on Papua?
- His colleague, Harits Abu Ulya ( who calls himself director of the CIIA, Community of Ideological Islamic Analysts), in an editorial in the organisation’s newspaper, Media Umat, that went viral on Islamist websites, wrote in November after the attack on the police in Lanny Jaya:
“Why don’t we hear a peep out of BNPT or Detachment 88 that this is terrorism? It’s as though there is an MoU [in the govt] that ‘terrorist’ is a label that only applies to members of the Muslim ummah. If the government is consistent, then it should acknowledge that attacks motivated by ethno-nationalism and separatism be considered terrorism because they are carried out by an organisation with a political vision that uses terrorism to influence the security environment and challenged the sovereignty of the state. Why aren’t we seeing forces being sent en masse to cleanse Papua of separatism? Why is there such enthusiasm in Poso to declare a war on terrorism? It’s no wonder if people see Detachment 88 and BNPT as having been created with the short-term and long-term goal of making war against Islamists. With each successive incidents, we can see who is friend and who is foe....”
The attention to Papua by the Islamist community – jihadi, hardline and mainstream – has been heightened in the last several years by books arguing that Islam had taken root in Papua before Christianity, with dakwah programs focused on getting Papuans to revert to their “original” faith. Islamists are now using the term “Nuu Waar” to refer to Papua, based on the fact that this is what the indigenous Muslims of Kaimana call their ancestral home.
Islamist civil society groups are also accusing BNPT of using “deradicalisation” programs as a way of sneaking an agenda of pluralism, liberalism and secularism into community teachings and have thus mobilised campaigns against these programs, calling for the dissolution of both BNPT and Detachment 88, with support that goes well into the political mainstream. (One group also had the cheek to offer militia men to the Ministry of Defence to help defend Papua from separatists, if needed.)
Meanwhile, Papuan activists are actively campaigning against Detachment 88 (known locally as Densus 88), which they see as designed to do precisely what the Islamists want, which is to mount an anti-terrorism campaign and bring the full force of the war on terror against the independence movement.
After the raid on the KNPB headquarters in Wamena in late September, headlines in a popular pro-independence website read: “Densus 88 sweeps [...] engineered to justify annihilation of Papuan resistance by Australian-funded troops.” Local human rights groups allege that Densus 88 was involved in the operations that killed Mako Tabuni and that the grand design is to deploy death squads against Papuan nationalists. This perception was enhanced when the former head of Detachment 88, Tito Karnavian, was assigned to Papua in September 2012 as the new chief of police.
We now have the ironic situation of Papuan independence activists alleging that Detachment 88 is out to destroy them, while Islamist activists are accusing it of ignoring Papua at their expense.
III. What is to be Done?
There is a strong probability that Islamist pressure will succeed in persuading the police to begin to charge independence activists responsible for certain kinds of crimes in Papua – like the Freeport shootings, if they catch the perpetrators – with terrorism.
I do think the discrepancy between the way the two groups are treated by the legal system is untenable. Papuans may not get charged with terrorism, but they tend to get much heavier sentences, because separatism tends to be seen as a worse offense than jihadism. Likewise, police operate on the premise that jihadists (with some exceptions) are fundamentally decent men gone astray, and therefore have had an ad hoc program of prison perks and post-release assistance in place to assist with rehabilitation and reintegration. As far as I know, there has been no systematic effort to promote disengagement from violence in Papua, though the new police chief may try to start one.
One solution is not to apply the anti-terrorism law in Papua, but rather to stop using it for crimes committed by jihadis that on the surface fall short of deliberate attempts to create fear, and for which there are adequate provisions in other laws, including the criminal code – crimes such as murder, robbery and assault.
There are two huge obstacles to pulling back from the use of the anti-terror law.
First is that it allows the police to do things they cannot do under ordinary criminal procedure, including detain people for a week instead of 48 hours and make use of electronic evidence. I think in general they have used the additional powers to good effect, and while there have certainly been cases of torture, political prisoners and suspected terrorists are often treated better than the norm for ordinary criminals. The added powers, however, make it difficult to think of reverting to the antiquated criminal code, particularly when the police tend to only make arrests when they are reasonably certain of gathering enough evidence for a conviction. Moreover, the anti-terror law is soon to be strengthened, expanding the definition of terrorism as well as police powers to combat it. While human rights advocates and Islamist groups are likely to campaign against it, the chances are that it will pass in some form – and once in place, it will be even harder to make the case for going back to the criminal code.
The second reason is that there is now a counter-terrorism bureaucracy in place, led by Detachment 88 and the BNPT, that is earning its keep by charging people with terrorism. The first is doing a very good job of tracking down the extremist network, and its intelligence capacity now far exceeds that of other agencies; BNPT has been effective on the operational side, less so on the preventive side. But it is not in the interests of either agency to cut back on who is defined as a terrorist. The bureaucratic and budgetary imperative is to expand, not contract, and while I don’t believe those who claim that recent waves of arrests are simply a proyek to keep anti-terrorism funds flowing or to divert attention away from police corruption scandals, I also think it will be hard to find anyone in these agencies who would support a reversion to the outdated criminal code.
There are others factors as well: at great expense and effort, the Indonesian government has developed a system of designated judges and prosecutors for handling terrorism cases, and many of the high-profile terrorism suspects are brought to Jakarta for trial. If these suspects were to be charged under the criminal code, they would be tried in local courts, where the capacity of judges and prosecutors is weak and the scope for pressure and intimidation from the defendants and their supporters is much higher.
If the chances for more restrictive use of the anti-terrorism law against jihadis are thus low, more training of Detachment 88 in non-lethal approaches to “active shooters” might lessen the rate of deaths in police operations and thus the motivation for revenge in the jihadi community.
An effort to bring more consistency in sentencing of similar crimes in Java and Papua, regardless of what those crimes are called, would be desirable. Heavier sentences for Papuans just reinforce a sense of discrimination and helps fuel resentment toward the Indonesian government.
The good news in all this is that the whole problem has been produced by the weakness of jihadi organisations in Indonesia today. If we were still seeing large-scale bombings of civilians, the Islamist accusation of unfair treatment would carry less weight.