Terrorism Law: Revise and Violate?

Terrorism Law: Revise and Violate?

Tempo Magazine, No. 04/X, September 22-28, 2009
The Commission for Dissapeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)

The government seeks a tougher law on terrorism in the wake of recent hotel bombings.

A HEATED debate at Sahid International Hotel in Jakarta early this month focused on a proposed revision of the law on terrorism. Representatives from law enforcement agencies, the military, and the intelligence community took turns speaking of the difficulty they faced on the ground fighting terrorism in
the country.

Too short a period of detention and lack of a detailed mechanism in coordination of operation between the police, the military, and intelligence services were repeatedly mentioned as a factor hampering full concentration on combating terrorism. The meeting narrowly unanimously agreed on the need to revise the existing law that would extend the detention period of a terrorist suspect.

Human rights groups, however, were opposed to such an idea. Usman Hamid, Coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons & Victims of Violence (Kontras) who was present at the meeting, said the proposed revision violated citizens' institutional rights. "There will be chaos in the judicial system when the role of law enforcement agencies is mixed up with that of other agencies," warned Hamid.

The meeting, called by the National Security Council, ended without any consensus. It was originally intended to find the right formula for the empowerment of law enforcement agencies without sacrificing civil rights in the wake of the bombing of the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in mid-July. "The idea of revising the law on terrorism still has to be discussed with the state intelligence, the police, Home Affairs Department, and the Department for Political & Security Affairs," said Hamid.

Earlier last month the idea of revising the law was brought up by Coordinating Minister for Political & Security Affairs, Widodo Adi Sutjipto, during a meeting with members of parliament's defense commission. "It's time that Law No. 16/2003
be revised," Sutjipto said.

According to Sutjipto, there is need to strengthen the institutional and personnel capacity of law enforcement agencies. The existing law, he added, covered only aspects of action while ignoring those of prevention.

* * *

THE law on terrorism was enacted after the first Bali bombing which killed more than 200 people in October 2002. The law, based on a government regulation in lieu of law, was drafted by then-Coordinating Minister for Political & Security Affairs,
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and Coordinating Minister for Justice & Human Rights, Ihza Mahendra. The bill was passed into law by parliament in 2003.

Under the new law, the police are authorized to detain a person suspected of terrorism for seven days without regard to his legal status. Although its retroactive effect was annulled by the Constitutional Court, the law proved adequate in dealing
with terrorism in the country. Hundreds of people were arrested and, many believe, the terrorist networks paralyzed.

But on October 1, 2005 another suicide bombing rocked Bali. Although the scale of damage and deaths at the beach resort at Jimbaran was smaller than that at a cafe in Kuta earlier in 2002, the police were in both cases caught off guard.

People began to talk of the law, saying it was "soft" on terrorism. A draft revision proposed by the government was nipped in the bud when public opposition kept it from reaching parliament.

Sutjipto, who was forced to withdraw the revised law, again put it on the table late last month. Arsyad Mbaii, his assistant on terrorism, is strongly promoting the idea of a tougher law.

"We are surrounded by countries with very strong laws on terrorism," Arsyad said last week. "In Malaysia and Singapore a person suspected of terrorism could be detained for years without trial." He said the law in Indonesia is "soft" on terrorism. "That's why the terrorists are targeting Indonesia."

According to Arsyad, the period of detention under Indonesian law should be extended from the current seven days. He cited the case of a suspect being detained on an island seven days away by sea from Jakarta. "It was past the period of detention when the man arrived in Jakarta [for questioning]," said Arsyad.

According to Arsyad, the terrorists operate in networks. "The terrorists caught in Palembang were found to have links with groups operating in Ambon," he said. "Similarly, the group which carried out terrorist activities in Poso was found to have links with groups operating in Yogyakarta."

Arsyad said the government was seeking an extension of the current period of detention. "If we stick to the 180-day detention period as it is now, that would be the same period for a person suspected of stealing a chicken."

He said too short a period of detention made police work difficult in fighting terrorism. "There are many cases in which people suspected of terrorism were released for lack of evidence." Arsyad cited the case of Air Setiawan who was
arrested on charges of involvement in the bombing of the Australian embassy in 2004. "He was released for lack of evidence and five years later he took part again in a bombing attack targeting the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels." Even if there was enough evidence, the police often failed to carry through their case because of the short period of detention.

"As a result, the court too could only sentence a defendant to a short term in jail." Again Arsyad cited the case of Urwah now wanted by the police for the Marriot-Ritz-Carlton bombing after serving a three-year term in jail. "Now we knew that Urwah is a dangerous bomb maker," said Arsyad.

* * *

IN parliament legislators were divided over the proposed revision of the law on terrorism. "There's still a polemic over the proposed revision," said Eva Kusuma Sundari of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. She considered a revision is as yet unnecessary. "The idea of extending the detention period is very disturbing," she said, adding that respect for human rights should not be sacrificed in the name of fighting terrorism. Eva also rejected involvement of the military and intelligence services. "The police should remain on the forefront in the fight against terrorism," she said.

Effendi Choirie of the National Awakening Party said no deliberation had yet begun on the proposed revision in parliament. "We still don't know which articles are to be
revised," he said.

Hamid of Kontras said the government had yet to fully implement presidential decrees on terrorism now in force, including Presidential Decree on Intelligence Coordination and Presidential Decree on the Role of the Coordinating Minister for
Political & Security Affairs in Combating Terrorism.

"If necessary, the President may simply issue another decree regulating military assistance to the police in fighting terrorism," said Hamid. "Therefore, there is no need for now for a revision of the existing law on terrorism."

Wahyu Dhyatmika, Agung Sedayu, Ismi Wahid