“Deradicalisation” and Indonesian Prisons
“Deradicalisation” and Indonesian Prisons
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report / Asia 3 minutes

“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.

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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

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