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How Much Freedom Are We Willing to Sacrifice to Feel Safe?

The Indonesian government wants to use new laws to combat terrorism. But at what cost?
Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata/ Wikimedia Commons 

Indonesia is under threat. It's under threat from terrorism. It's under threat from the ISIS-linked militants who seized the city of Marawi in the southern Philippines. It's under threat from people who want to topple the state's identity, the Pancasila, with hardline Islam. Or with communism. Or neoliberalism. Or illegal drugs. Or LGBT culture.

Spend enough time reading the comments of Indonesian officials, politicians, and pundits and you'll find someone warning that the country is about to fall apart thanks to one of the above. Or all of them. We're all in the midst of another "year of living dangerously," or so it seems.


It's been a tough year in Indonesia. The country's efforts to combat radical ideology are showing signs of strain after Indonesia was hit with several small but still concerning terrorist attacks. Indonesian militants are fighting in Marawi and there's a real concern that they may return home when the city falls back into government control.

Meanwhile, the jailing of former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and the massive protests calling for his arrest have left Indonesia's ethnic minorities shook, and many others wondering whether the legal system is in need of reform.

So how much would you be willing to sacrifice to feel safer? This isn't a hypothetical question, it's a real concern being raised by the nation's human rights groups and legal experts. President Joko Widodo's administration is in the midst of backing two new laws that, among other things, gives the state the authority to detain people for nearly a year without charge, or forcibly disband groups whose ideology are deemed " anti-Pancasila."

The Jokowi administration says the laws are needed to keep the country safe and stable. But critics have called the new laws authoritarian. The language, they argue, is too vague, which opens the door to a host of potential human rights violations.

"The measures of national security should be clearly defined," said Haris Azar, a former coordinator with the Commission on Missing Persons (KontraS). "Say there's a deadly plague spreading around, then it's possible to limit the freedoms and rights of the people. But these limitations need to be clear and justifiable. There needs to be a judicial process."


What laws are we talking about?

We're talking about two laws: the anti-terrorism draft bill currently being discussed in the House of Representatives and Jokowi's new presidential regulation in lieu of law, or Perppu, that aims to crack down on any mass organization, or ormas, caught spreading an ideology that opposes the notions and ideology detailed in the Pancasila.

This new Perppu allows the government to ban any organization it deems a threat to the nation's foundations. Experts believe the Jokowi administration drafted the regulation to contain the kinds of protests that hit capital in the lead-up to then-governor Ahok's arrest.

Jokowi's administration has already banned Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia—an Islamist organization that has called for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Southeast Asia for decades. It's ideas like this that the government saw as a threat to the state. But others questioned why a largely peaceful Islamist group like HTI was banned when other more violent groups remain intact.

But the National Police say they have more than enough evidence to prove that HTI was a threat to national security. Now, with the Perppu ratified, the police are free to ban whoever else they see as a similar threat to the Pancasila.

Then there's the new anti-terrorism draft bill. It's currently held up in the House, but the bill includes multiple articles that rights groups say could open the door to human rights violations.


Still confused? Here's a breakdown:

Perppu No. 2 of 2017
Under this presidential regulation in lieu of law, ormas are forbidden from "adopting, developing, and promoting any ideologies contradicting the Pancasila." What's this mean? It's talking about groups that are opposed to pluralism, or ones that want to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state.

Jokowi's administration sees this law as a vital tool in its fight to curb the influence of increasingly powerful organizations spreading fundamentalist ideologies.

The Perppu lists a dozen offenses that could result in a ban, including hate speech, inspiring racial or sectarian conflict, improper dress, or threatening iconography or logos. Any organization caught violating these rules would receive a single warning letter demanding a response. If the government doesn't hear back within seven days, it's free to suspend the group, pending further investigation.

If police find evidence in speeches, literature, or social media that the organization is promoting something that opposes the Pancasila, it's legal right to exist is revoked. That means no more recruitment, no more demonstrations, no more fundraising. Forever.

But wait, these ormas want repeal some of the things enshrined in Pancasila, isn't this a good thing?

Not according to rights groups. The courts should be in charge of deciding whether an ormas is legal, not the central government, Refly Harun, a legal expert at the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Center (Correct), told VICE. The government should also institute multiple stages before the ban, including efforts to reform the group first, Refly said.

"Both laws violate basic human rights, like freedom of assembly, as well as violate the presumption of innocence," Refly said of the Perppu and the anti-terrorism draft bill.


Others say the Perppu is little more than a hastily assembled regulation meant to give the government the right to ban ormas and little else. This presidential regulation was never meant to stand up to the scrutiny of legal experts, said Irman Putra Sidin, a constitutional law expert with his own law firm. The whole point here was to establish a way to ban "dangerous" organizations as quickly as possible, he said.

"Since multiple stages complicated things, the government tried to cut corners and issue Perppu," he told local media. "It's a terrible precedent that contributes nothing positive to our democracy since we already had clear laws about this."

Under previous laws, the process for banning an ormas were as follows: issue three warning letters, cut off their source of funding, freeze them out, then take them to court if they ignore all of the above. All of these steps were cut by the new Perppu.

So what about this new anti-terrorism law?

Anti-Terrorism Draft Bill
The United States passed the Patriot Act in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and with it set into motion measures that would begin the rollback of freedoms US citizens had previously enjoyed. That bill opened the door to the kinds of warrantless surveillance that continue to plague US intelligence gathering operations today.

Here in Indonesia, the government rushed to pass its own anti-terrorism laws in the immediate aftermath of 2016's Sarinah attack. The draft bill aimed to strengthen the country's efforts to combat terrorism at a time when officials are increasingly concerned about a potential rise in ISIS-linked attacks.


But this new bill spends too much time detailing actions without establishing clear procedures or accountability measures, said Puri Kencana Putri, a coordinator with KontraS. It also extends new authority to security forces that already operate without much oversight and are routinely accused of rights violations. As many as 121 terrorism suspects have died before ever seeing the inside of a court room since the early 2000s, according to reports in local media.

"The current laws are already unclear," Puri told VICE. "The response is unproportional. How come so many of these terrorism suspects die during their capture?"

So what's new in this bill? A lot.

There are currently 10 articles in the anti-terrorism draft bill that could be violations of human rights, according to a report by KontraS.

They are:

  • The right to revoke a suspected terrorist's passport and citizenship, rendering them stateless.
  • Deradicalization is defined as "the process or acts aimed at a person or group of people with extreme intentions that could lead to terrorism." But no one knows what "extreme intentions" means here.
  • Convicted terrorists can face the death penalty.
  • Anyone caught spreading information through speeches, acts, writings, or appearances that could cause intimidation toward a certain group, anarchism, or terrorism faces up to 12 years in jail.
  • If children are involved in the terrorist action, then their sentence can increase by 50 percent.
  • Investigators only need two pieces of evidence to order wiretaps, seize personal property, or raid your home.
  • Police can detain someone they suspect of having intentions to commit a terrorist attack for up to six months.
  • The military's role is increased in domestic affairs.
  • Anyone accused of committing terrorism can be detained for up to 30 days.
  • And police can detain a terrorism suspect for nearly a year without filing charges.

It's the last one that has most human rights groups concerned. Under existing laws, a suspect can be detained for up to 25 days without being charged, as long as the police investigation continues. But that detention period balloons to 300 days under this new anti-terrorism bill.

And no one knows exactly where this detention will take place, explained Bonar Tigor Naipospos, of the Setara Institute. It's unclear if terrorism suspects will be held at the National Police Mobile Brigade (BriMob) headquarters, the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) headquarters, or some other judicial office.

But regardless of the location, no one should be detained without a clear legal reason for doing so, Bonar told VICE.

"A detention should only takes place when one has a clear legal status, be it as a suspect, as the accused or as a convicted criminal," he said.