Indonesian President Joko Widodo (front right) appoints Air Force Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto as the country's new military chief at the presidential palace in Jakarta on Dec. 8 replacing General Gatot Nurmantyo. (Photo by Gagah Adhaputra/AFP)
A proposal to mandate an ongoing anti-terrorism role for Indonesia's military has met with opposition from a range of lawyers and academics as well as human rights activists.
A central contention is that the military would be more likely than police to use violent methods of suppression rather than to arrest and prosecute suspects.
Revised laws set to be debated in Indonesia's parliament would, if passed, expand the role of police in fighting terrorism, not least widening their powers of detention.
The new laws would also give police greater scope to block financial support for radical individuals or groups.
However, new armed forces chief Hadi Tjahjanto recently proposed that parliament also codify the military's national security role in relation to terrorism.
Franz Hendra Winarta, a law professor at Pelita Harapan University in Jakarta, believes tackling terrorism should be a police task.
The existing mandate is for the military to defend national unity.
So including an ongoing counter-terrorism responsibility for the army, navy and air force would require the addition of a specific clause to the existing law, Winarta told ucanews.
If terrorism were to threaten national unity the military could become involved, but it would have to be under direct orders of the nation's president, Winarta added.
Adrianus Meliala, a criminology professor at the University of Indonesia, said the military was already involved in fighting terrorism, but mainly through preventive measures such as providing intelligence.
In responding to terrorism, police have sought to uncover networks, arrest perpetrators and take them to court.
However, the military may opt to shoot suspects on the spot, she warned.
"Based on this, I am afraid there will be conflict between the two institutions," Meliala added.
Meliala agreed that if civil authorities or the president needed military intervention for a specific purpose, they could provide authorization.
This appeared to be a more attractive alternative to allowing the military to have an open-ended, self-governing counter-terrorism function.
A military expert and political science professor at the University of Indonesia, who declined to be named, told ucanews.com on Jan. 31 he disagreed the military should have a role in counter-terrorism laws.
"Fighting terrorism is the domain of the police, and the military must not intervene," he said.
Activists fear a military overlap with police would lead to more human rights abuses.
They point to past military violence under former long-time president Suharto, against students as well as secessionists in the Melanesian province of Papua.
Suharto was forced out of office in 1998.
The Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace has expressed concern about any wider formal counter-terrorism role for the military.
If the armed forces violated the law when combating terrorism, the matter could only be dealt with by a military court and they would not be accountable to any civil authority, the institute cautioned.
Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, cited a need to regulate police/military collaboration.
Andreas Harsono, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the Indonesian government has legitimate concerns about terrorism, but it must also guarantee the protection of basic rights.
Since the Bali bombing in 2002 that killed 202 people, there have been 421 bomb attacks in Indonesia.
Many alleged perpetrators have been arrested by police, including 170 in 2016 and 172 in 2017.