Legal Vacuum Frustrates Indonesia's Anti-Terror Agencies

MARCH 18, 2015

Jakarta. The institutions at the forefront of Indonesia’s war on terror have complained about a loophole in Indonesia’s legal system, saying it has rendered them unable to press charges against Indonesians intent on going over to Syria to join the extremist group Islamic State.

Previous reports have said one out of 12 Indonesian nationals arrested in Malaysia in December last year, on allegations they were planning to join IS, has been jailed.

They were arrested prior to a flight to Turkey, from which they planned to cross the border to Syria.

The man has been identified as Suyatno, who was convicted in 2011 for an armed robbery of a CIMB Bank branch in Medan, North Sumatra. He was arrested in Malaysia shortly after his release.

The Indonesian police’s anti-terror unit, Densus 88, has since jailed Suyatno, but not because of his alleged IS-related plans.

Instead, he has been charged over involvement in another historical terror-related activity in Indonesia, as well as identity document forgery.

The 11 other Indonesians, including women and children, have been cleared by Densus and released from detention.

“There is no legal ground in Indonesia’s law that clearly forbids ISIS,” National Police deputy chief Comr. Gen. Badrodin Haiti said in Jakarta on Tuesday, referring to Islamic State by another acronym. “The consequence is that when some individuals or a group supports ISIS, we must find another potential charge [to detain them]. If we can’t find one, we have no other choice but to release them.”

This, Badrodin added, called for a new “legal umbrella.” He suggested a revision to the 2003 Anti-Terrorism Law, or the issuance of a new government regulation in lieu of law, or perppu.

“Otherwise the situation will continue to be like this; like now after 16 Indonesian citizens were arrested in Turkey and another 16 remain missing there,” he said.

Badrodin was referring to the recent arrest of 16 Indonesian nationals, mostly children, by the Turkish authorities on the Syrian border.

The second group, meanwhile, traveled to Turkey last month as part of a tour group organized by an Indonesian travel agency before they went missing shortly after arrival at Istanbul Ataturk Airport.

They parted from the tour group on the pretext they were planning to see their relatives in Turkey. Indonesian officials earlier said that both groups were suspected of traveling to Turkey for the express purpose of crossing over to Syria to join IS.

On Tuesday, State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Marciano Norman suggested finances may be a motive, too. Before the war, Syria was a top destination for many Indonesian migrant workers, most of whom worked as maids. Many ill-informed Indonesians still seek to work in the country, not overly concerned about the war.

“First, there are those [who travel to Syria] to join a radical group. However, there are also those with purely economic motive; they [seek to] work as domestic helpers for a better life,” Marciano said. “Some of them have sold everything they have here for a better life in another country,” he added.

National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chief Saud Usman Nasution also called for a revision in Indonesia’s anti-terrorism law, citing difficulties in charging IS sympathizers under prevailing laws and regulations.

“Voicing their opinions and aspirations, and traveling abroad are not legal violations. People can say whatever they want,” Saud said in Jakarta on Tuesday. “We also cannot charge them [IS sympathizers] with a conspiracy against the state, because this concerns a state outside Indonesia."

“We therefore need to revise the anti-terror law. Perhaps we need to widen and expand the definition of what constitutes a conspiracy against the state.”

Alternatively, Indonesia can revise its law on mass organizations to be able to charge local groups sympathizing with IS, or its regulations about organizations and freedom of speech in general, so that anyone who claims they are a member of IS can be jailed, Saud said.

“These are needed in order to create deterrents. As long as [there is no change to the law], it will be difficult for us to charge [IS sympathizers],” he said. “Right now we’re still trying to curb the spread [of IS influence] by providing guidance and building dialogue with all elements of society — through public and religious figures.”

The BNPT says an estimated 500 Indonesians have joined IS, and some are even believed to have returned to Indonesia.

Saud said Turkey’s visa-on-arrival policy for Indonesian citizens also made it difficult for the Indonesian authorities to monitor Indonesians seeking to enter Syria en route from Turkey, which Western powers have complained has been lax about shoring up its porous border with Syria.