icon caret Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Line Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Whatsapp Youtube
“Deradicalisation” and Indonesian Prisons
“Deradicalisation” and Indonesian Prisons
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 142 / Asia

“Deradicalisation” and Indonesian Prisons

Indonesia, like many countries where Islamic jihadi cells have been uncovered, has been experimenting over the last three years with “deradicalisation” programs.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

Executive Summary

Indonesia, like many countries where Islamic jihadi cells have been uncovered, has been experimenting over the last three years with “deradicalisation” programs. While the term is poorly defined and means different things to different people, at its most basic it involves the process of persuading extremists to abandon the use of violence. It can also refer to the process of creating an environment that discourages the growth of radical movements by addressing the basic issues fuelling them, but in general, the broader the definition, the less focused the program created around it. Experience suggests that deradicalisation efforts in Indonesia, however creative, cannot be evaluated in isolation and they are likely to founder unless incorporated into a broader program of prison reform.

One Indonesian initiative, focused on prisoners involved in terrorism, has won praise for its success in persuading about two dozen members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and a few members of other jihadi organisations to cooperate with the police. Key elements are getting to know individual prisoners and responding to their specific concerns, often relating to economic needs of their families, as well as constant communication and attention. One premise is that if through kindness, police can change the jihadi assumption that government officials are by definition thoghut (anti-Islamic), the prisoners may begin to question other deeply-held tenets.

Once prisoners show a willingness to accept police assistance, they are exposed to religious arguments against some forms of jihad by scholars whose credentials within the movement are unimpeachable. Some have then accepted that attacks on civilians, such as the first and second Bali bombings and the Australian embassy bombing, were wrong. The economic aid, however, is ultimately more important than religious arguments in changing prisoner attitudes.

The Indonesian program until now has largely been viewed in isolation from other developments and without much questioning about cause and effect. There has been little attempt, for example, to assess whether more people are leaving jihadi organisations than joining them; whether the men joining the program were already disposed to reject bombing as a tactic; or whether the initiative has created any backlash in jihadi ranks. There has been almost no public discussion about where the appropriate balance should be between leniency toward perpetrators, in an effort to prevent future attacks, and justice for victims.

There has also been insufficient attention to the relationship between the deradicalisation program and the Indonesian corrections system – and the gains of the one can be undermined by the poor performance of the other. Indonesia has some 170 men (no women) currently incarcerated for involvement in jihadi crimes, less than half JI members. About 150 men and one woman have been released after serving sentences for crimes related to terrorist acts, more than 60 in 2006-2007 alone.

Ultimately, the police initiative is aimed at using ex-prisoners as a vanguard for change within their own communities after their release but the task is made infinitely harder by a lax prison regime where jihadi prisoners band together to protect themselves against inmate gangs; where hardcore ideologues can and do recruit ordinary criminals and prison wardens to their cause; and where corruption is so pervasive that it reinforces the idea of government officials as anti-Islamic. In fact, counter-terrorism police do their best to keep jihadi detainees in police holding cells, knowing that as soon as they are transferred to prison, the chances of keeping them on the right track plummet.

Indonesian prison administrators have just begun to be included in counter-terrorism training programs. Their involvement should continue but the problem goes much deeper. Unless prison corruption is tackled, jihadis, like narcotics offenders, murderers, and big-time corruptors, will be able to communicate with anyone they want and get around any regulation designed to restrict their influence over other inmates. Unless prisons get more and better trained staff, they will not be able to address the problem of gangs and protection rackets among inmates that serve to strengthen jihadi solidarity. Unless prison administrators know more about the jihadis in their charge, they will not know what to look for in terms of recruitment – who among ordinary criminal inmates joins jihadi groups, why and for how long – or dissemination of radical teachings. Unless there is better coordination between prison authorities and the counter-terrorism police, they may end up working at cross-purposes.

Prison reform is urgently needed in Indonesia for many different reasons but helping buttress deradicalisation programs is one.

Jakarta/Brussels, 19 November 2007

Briefing 139 / Asia

Indonesia: Tensions Over Aceh’s Flag

A dispute over a flag in Aceh is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Indonesia’s central government, heightening ethnic tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of the province and raising fears of violence as the 2014 national elections approach.

I. Overview

The decision of the Aceh provincial government to adopt the banner of the former rebel Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) as its official provincial flag is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Jakarta, heightening ethnic and political tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of Aceh and raising fears of violence as a national election approaches in 2014.

On 25 March 2013, the provincial legislature adopted a regulation (qanun) making the GAM’s old banner the provincial flag. It was immediately signed by Governor Zaini Abdullah. The governor and deputy governor are members of Partai Aceh, the political party set up by former rebel leaders in 2008 that also controls the legislature.

The central government, seeing the flag as a separatist symbol and thus in violation of national law, immediately raised objections and asked for changes. Partai Aceh leaders, seeing the flag as a potent tool for mass mobilisation in 2014, have refused, arguing that it cannot be a separatist symbol if GAM explicitly recognised Indonesian sovereignty as part of the Helsinki peace agreement in 2005 that ended a nearly 30-year insurgency. Partai Aceh believes that if it remains firm, Jakarta will eventually concede, as it did in 2012 over an election dispute.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s government is torn. On the one hand, it does not want a fight with the GAM leaders; the 2005 peace agreement is the most important achievement of a president who, in his final term, is very much concerned about his legacy. It also is unwilling to provoke GAM too far, fearful that it will return to conflict, a fear many in Aceh discount as unwarranted but one that Partai Aceh has exploited with relish. On the other hand, it does not want to be branded as anti-nationalist as the 2014 election looms, especially as some in the security forces remain convinced that GAM has not given up the goal of independence and is using democratic means to pursue it. The president and his advisers also know that if they allow the GAM flag to fly, it will have repercussions in Papua, where dozens of pro-independence activists remain jailed for flying the “Morning Star” flag of the independence movement.

GAM leaders see little to lose by standing their ground. The flag is a hugely emotive symbol, and defying Jakarta is generally a winning stance locally. Some individual members of parliament see it as a way of regaining waning popularity for failing to deliver anything substantive to their constituencies. Also, Partai Aceh took a controversial decision to partner with Gerindra, the party of former army General Prabowo Subianto, for the 2014 election. Leaders like Muzakir Manaf, deputy governor and former commander of GAM’s armed wing, may want to use the flag issue to show they have not compromised their principles by allying with a man whose human rights record is often questioned.

Within Aceh, adoption of the GAM flag has sparked protests from non-Acehnese ethnic groups in the central highlands and south west. The GAM heartland has always been along the east coast; to highlanders like the Gayo, the flag thus represents the domination of the coastal Acehnese at their expense. The issue has revived a dormant campaign for the division of Aceh into three by the creation of two new provinces, Aceh Leuser Antara (ALA) for the central highlands and Aceh Barat Selatan (ABAS) for the south west. If GAM does not back down on the flag, support for that campaign by the intelligence services is likely to rise, and with it, the probability of increased ethnic tensions.

The options for breaking the stalemate seem to be as follows: the government concedes; GAM concedes, making slight changes to the flag by adding or removing an element; GAM agrees to limits on how or where the flag can be displayed; or the dispute is taken to the Supreme Court, thereby delaying any resolution.

In the meantime, the power of the GAM machinery in Aceh continues to grow.

Jakarta /Brussels, 7 May 2013