World

Jakarta attacks: Indonesia vows to strengthen anti-terror laws

Jakarta: The Indonesian government has vowed to tighten anti-terrorism laws in the wake of Jakarta's deadly attacks but it faces a delicate task given the history of repression under the Suharto regime.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, centre, visits the site of last week's terror attacks in Central Jakarta.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, centre, visits the site of last week's terror attacks in Central Jakarta. Photo: Supplied

President Joko Widodo said there was an urgent need for police to be given more power to take preventative action.

No decision had yet been made but Mr Joko said one popular option was to strip Indonesians who commit a terrorist attack of their citizenship. Proposed changes include prohibiting Indonesians from joining radical groups such as Islamic State overseas and greater powers to detain suspects.

People carry an injured police officer near the site where an explosion went off at a police post in Jakarta last week.
People carry an injured police officer near the site where an explosion went off at a police post in Jakarta last week. Photo: AP

"We think there should be preventative and pre-emptive measures so that we will have authority to take action against those who return from Syria for instance," National Police spokesman Anton Charliyan said after the January 14 terror attack.

Under existing Indonesian laws it is not a crime for Indonesians to go to Syria and join Islamic State or to hold meetings in support of IS.

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Terror suspects can only be arrested once they have committed a crime.

"Police must be able to arrest someone when there is even a small indication of a possible terrorist act," said Adhe Bhakti from the Jakarta-based Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalisation.

A woman lays flowers outside the Starbucks cafe where last week's attack took place in Jakarta.
A woman lays flowers outside the Starbucks cafe where last week's attack took place in Jakarta. Photo: AP

"For instance, a farmer who piles up five kilograms of nails, ten kilograms of sulphur and another ten kilograms of fertilisers at his house. What would a farmer do with nails and sulphur? Right now, the police cannot arrest someone even though they find this stuff at his place. The police can only arrest him if he has put the stuff together into a bomb."

The head of Indonesia's National Intelligence Agency (BIN), Sutiyoso, also complained after the attacks that the agency didn't have the power to arrest or detain anyone.

However the legacy of the authoritarian Suharto regime means Indonesians are very wary of the degradation of civil liberties.

"The deliberate degradation of the criminal justice system under Suharto meant courts became a branch of government and that people were often detained without a proper trial," said Tim Lindsey Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at Melbourne University.

"This meant that having an open criminal justice process and avoiding arbitrary detention were among the key demands that the reform movement made after Suharto. These are still issues of great sensitivity in Indonesia."

For this reason Dr Lindsey said he did not believe the Jakarta attacks would have as much effect on the government as people outside Indonesia expect they would.

"I don't think we should over-estimate the impact this will have on policy," he said.

Mr Joko said the government would consult with the parliament and other state agencies before a decision was made.

"Everything is still under discussion," he said. "It could be a revised law, it could be a government regulation, it could be a new law on [terrorism] prevention."

Terrorism expert Sidney Jones said she believed a narrowly focused law banning support for IS, training in conjunction with IS and travel to IS-controlled areas would be preferable to amending the 2003 anti-terrorist law.

"I also think it would be more politically palatable," she said in Tempo.

Ms Jones said the National Intelligence Agency should not be given arrest and detention powers.

"More actors will not improve counter-terrorism efforts but likely fuel counterproductive competition and duplication of effort," she said.

Eight people, including militants, died as a result of the January 14 attacks that began with a suicide bomb inside a Starbucks outlet in Central Jakarta. Of the 28 wounded in the attacks, nine are still in hospital.

- With Karuni Rompies

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