Indonesia: Debate over a New Intelligence Bill
Indonesia: Debate over a New Intelligence Bill
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing / Asia 2 minutes

Indonesia: Debate over a New Intelligence Bill

Indonesia should put the passage of a controversial intelligence bill on hold until there is a more comprehensive assessment of its security needs.

I. Overview

A controversial bill defining the role and functions of Indonesian intelligence agencies has top priority in the Indonesian parliament. It was originally scheduled for enactment in July 2011 but will now be delayed until September or October. It would be better to put the bill on hold even longer until there is a more comprehensive assessment of security needs and how to address them.

The controversy centres around three issues: whether the State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara, BIN) should have arrest and detention powers; whether wiretapping and other intercepts should require a court order; and how to ensure oversight and accountability mechanisms consistent with democratic governance. The administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is taking the hardest line, arguing for more powers and less oversight than even BIN itself sees as desirable. Human rights advocates and civil society organisations, including hardline Muslim groups, are at the other end of the spectrum, fearing a return to authoritarian practices of the past. In the middle are the parliamentarians who initiated the law with good intentions, most of whom are determined to resist government pressure but feel the NGOs are going too far.

The debate is taking place in a context where the main threats to the Indonesian state are defined as internal: separatism, terrorism and sectarianism. As such, the targets of arrest, detention or wiretapping would be overwhelmingly Indonesian nationals, and many fear that the combination of enhanced powers and weak oversight raises the spectre of a politicised intelligence agency being used in the future as it was in the past to crack down on domestic enemies. BIN rejects these arguments, saying times have changed and there will be no return to abusive practices.

The current bill follows an unsuccessful effort in 2002 to pass a law strengthening Indonesia’s intelligence apparatus. That bill, drafted in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and a changed perception of the security threat, encountered stiff resistance. The human rights community was worried about backsliding on civil liberties; hardline Muslim groups saw the bill aimed at themselves; and rival agencies, such as the police, saw BIN encroaching on its turf. It was eventually shelved. Subsequent efforts by the government to revive the bill in 2004 and 2006 encountered similar opposition.

The law now under discussion, drafted in late 2010, had a more constructive genesis, as it was the initiative of a few newly elected legislators with intelligence backgrounds who were concerned that BIN was the only major security agency in the post-Soeharto era to lack a supporting legal framework. They wanted better coordination among security agencies, more information-sharing and more safeguards against rogue activities.

Civil society groups were concerned about the historic lack of accountability in BIN, as in other security agencies, and wanted more judicial and parliamentary oversight. They also wanted major structural changes and staffing restricted to civilians, except in the military intelligence body.

In March 2011, the government submitted a list of objections to the draft. It wanted no changes in structure or supervision and argued for giving BIN powers of preventive detention and “intensive” interrogation. A process of bargaining between the government and parliamentarians is underway.

Debate over the bill is taking place, however, as other security legislation is in the works, including a national security bill and amendments that would strengthen the anti-terrorism law. The lack of a coherent blueprint for Indonesia’s security apparatus and the piecemeal approach to legislation may result in worsening the problem of unclear divisions of labour and overlapping responsibilities – quite apart from the problems of the intelligence law itself.

Under such circumstances, there is no good reason for ramming through the intelligence bill. Taking a step back and thinking more about how to balance Indonesia’s security needs with its commitment to democratic values should be in the interests of all concerned.

Jakarta/Brussels, 12 July 2011

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