Clamor sees new Indonesian anti-terrorism bill passed

Police say their hands were tied under previous law which severely restricted measures to prevent attacks
Clamor sees new Indonesian anti-terrorism bill passed

Mourners attend a requiem Mass at a funeral home in Surabaya for brothers Vincentius Evan Hudojo, 11 and Nathanael Ethan Hudojo, 8 who were killed in a suicide bombing at the Santa Maria Catholic church in Surabaya on May 13. Indonesian lawmakers have recently passed an anti-terror bill to give police greater powers to fight terrorism (Photo by Ryan Dagur/ucanews.com)

 

For Danny Maheu, the recent spate of suicide bombings that killed at least 31 people at three churches and a police station in the Indonesian city of Surabaya, brought back haunting memories of a tragic event that changed the course of his life more than two years ago.

The 51-year-old policeman and father of two was on traffic duty in Jakarta on Feb. 14, 2016 when Islamic State-linked militants struck, killing four innocent people. Among the dead was his colleague. Four of the militants were also killed. 

Maheu lost his right leg in an explosion, but he has since returned to work albeit in a limited capacity.

Subsequent terrorist attacks have targeted policemen, including a recent riot by terrorist inmates at a police detention center in Depok, West Java, and on the Surabaya police station, and another in Sumatra's Riau province.

Observers say the police are a target because they are stumbling blocks to terrorists achieving their goal.

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However, the sad reality is police have limited powers to fight terrorism, Maheu said.

There are various ways to improve the effectiveness of police, the most powerful being through the law, he added.

This could happen now that Indonesian legislators approved a stalled anti-terrorism bill, on May 25 which gives police greater powers to arrest suspects, the policeman said.

"This new law was needed to prevent more terrorist attacks from happening," said Maheu.

As a policeman he says he was saddened by the fact that, before the bill was passed, police could only arrest terrorists in most cases after something terrible has happened.

The anti-terrorism bill was initially drafted following the attack that disfigured Maheu.

However, it remained in limbo for nearly three years due to conflicting views on several key points, including the maximum period of pre-trial detention allowed and military involvement in counter-terrorism activities.

Supporters say the bill gives police the power to block financial support for extremist groups and individuals, detain suspects for longer periods without trial, revoke passports of Indonesians suspected of undertaking training in terrorism abroad, and enhance the ability to monitor suspects.

According to Al Chaidar, an expert on terrorism from Malikussaleh University in Aceh, said this new law was needed now more than ever with many Indonesian jihadists who joined IS in Syria and Marawi having returned home following their defeats there.

"A firm and strong law is important in fighting terrorism," he said.  

He estimated about 1,200 Indonesians joined IS in Syria and around 500 had returned home and were ready to launch attacks.

National Police spokesman Setyo Wasisto recently told media that more attacks are imminent.

"Terrorist cells have awoken from their slumber and are ready to launch bigger attacks," he said.

Nothing much can be done to prevent them because the previous law only had teeth after a crime was committed.

"The 2003 anti-terrorism law prohibited police from arresting and detaining terrorist suspects," Wasisto said.

Nuril Arifin Husein, a moderate Muslim from Nahdlatul Ulama, the biggest Islamic organization in Indonesia with over 90 million members, said the new law would prevent radical groups from growing bigger and committing violence.

According to the Wahid Institute in 2017, about 11 million people among Indonesia's 230 million population were thought to harbor radical views.

Human rights friendly

Father Agustinus Ulahayanan, executive secretary of the bishops' Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs said the bishops all wanted this bill passed.

When it was drafted in 2016 he conveyed this message to parliament. But disagreements among different groups had delayed the bill, allowing terrorists to consolidate and move forward.

People have often blamed the police for not doing their job. The fact is the law worked against them, he said.

"[What I know is] the new law is human rights friendly," he told ucanews.com, and people should not be afraid if it enhances the scope of police work in counter-terrorism.

"The police needed a legal umbrella to arrest terrorists. It will protect them from accusations of violating human rights," said Communion of Churches in Indonesia spokesman Jeirry Sumampow.

However, Toni Togar, a former terrorist and member of the Jamaah Islamiyah group, a branch of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia and the group responsible for the 2002 bomb attacks in Bali, disagreed, saying Indonesia would descend into chaos because of this bill.

"Giving more authority to police and military in fighting terrorism will create more human rights abuses," he said.

Since the Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, there have been more than 440 bomb attacks in Indonesia, including the church bombings in Surabaya this month.

Hundreds of alleged terrorists have also been arrested, including 172 detained in 2017, and more than 80 up until May of this year.

Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was first published.

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