image

Islamic militancy

Indonesia under pressure to pass anti-terror law after wave of suicide bomb attacks in Surabaya

Anti-terror legislation, which has been stalled in parliament since February 2016, would give police sweeping powers of arrest and the ability to detain suspects for up to six months

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2018, 4:38pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2018, 4:53pm

A wave of deadly bombings in Indonesia has put the spotlight on lawmakers and anti-terrorism laws that give police enhanced powers to take pre-emptive action but which have languished in the parliament since 2016.

President Joko Widodo said Monday the government may issue a rule in lieu of law, known as perpu, if parliament fails to pass revision to 2003 anti-terrorism laws by June. 

The comments from Widodo, known as Jokowi, come 12 months after he called for lawmakers to expedite the passage of the revised laws in the wake of twin suicide attacks in the capital that killed several police officers.

“This is a crucial legal umbrella for the police in taking firm actions, whether in terms of taking preventive or firm actions,” Widodo told reporters. 

“If by June, or by the end of the next sitting session, this is yet to be completed, I will issue a perpu.”

The latest attacks underscore concerns over rising sectarian tensions in the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation. 

The new anti-terror laws, which were introduced into parliament in February 2016, would give police sweeping powers of arrest and the ability to detain suspects for up to six months. They would also make it an offence for Indonesians to travel abroad in a bid to join terrorist groups.

The legislation adds offences such as taking part in military training at home or abroad, communicating about conducting terrorist acts and joining or recruiting for a declared terrorist organisation. 

Authorities would also be given the power to strip convicted terrorists of their passports and citizenship.

An explosion rocked the main police office at Surabaya on Monday, while at least 14 people, including six suicide bombers were killed and dozens injured in three separate bombings at churches in Surabaya on Sunday, according to police. 

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack that was carried out by six members of a family.

Barely a week ago, the group also claimed responsibility after six police officers and a prisoner were killed during a prison riot in the capital, Jakarta, local media reported

“The latest attack will increase pressures on Indonesia’s lawmakers to expedite the anti-terror bill that is currently stalled in parliament,” said Hugo Brennan, a Jakarta-based senior Asia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.

The existing legislation does not include any preventive aspects, he said, noting it’s not currently illegal under the 2003 law to go abroad and try to join a terrorist organisation.

Brennan said the latest attacks could have ramifications for upcoming elections. 

Indonesia’s 2019 presidential race is widely expected to be a re-run of the 2014 contest in which Widodo, known as Jokowi, defeated former general Prabowo Subianto, who has cultivated an image as a no-nonsense tough guy.

“The laws are with parliament but obviously it’s the executive’s role to have a working relationship with the legislature to get laws passed. It could well be an issue that Jokowi’s political opponents use in the run-up to the elections.”

Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, Wiranto, said Monday major political parties were willing to finalise the legislation in the near future, smoothing its passage without Widodo’s intervention.

The last five days represent the worst period for terrorist threats in Indonesia in a decade, said Greg Barton, a counterterrorism expert and professor of global Islamic politics at Deakin University in Australia.

“You have to go back into the last decade to find this level of coordinated attack and intensity,” Barton said. 

“The fact that it’s linked to Jemaah Ansharut Daulah and Islamic State is very significant.”

He said the incidents raise “a nightmare scenario that Islamic State, particularly with a significant wave of returning foreign fighters, will present a challenge” security forces cannot control.

The British, US and Australian embassies have all issued warnings in response to the attacks in Surabaya, warning of a heightened risk of further attacks in the lead-up to and during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which runs from Tuesday until mid-June.