(Jakarta, 10 August 2018) Indonesia is facing an infrastructure crunch with unprecedented numbers of terrorist suspects arrested under a newly strengthened anti-terrorism law and not enough maximum security facilities ready to hold them. In the past, regular releases of convicted terrorists have kept the prison population manageable, but the rate of releases will slow, and many in the new intake will likely receive heavier sentences under the new law, keeping them in for longer periods.
These are among the findings of the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), “Recent and Planned Releases of Indonesian Extremists: An Update.” The report looks at 144 prisoners, 70 released between January 2017 and August 2018 and the rest scheduled for release before December 2019.
“Looking at these releases is like going back in time, because most of these men (and a few women) were arrested just as ISIS was beginning to attract Indonesian recruits,” says Sidney Jones, IPAC director. “Understanding who is getting out helps us understand how the extremist movement has evolved over the last five years.”
The looming infrastructure crisis is revealed by one stark statistic: in the same period that 70 convicted extremists have been released, some 400 have been arrested, more than 280 since May 2018. This creates problems not just for the police who run the detention centres where these people are being held but for the prosecutors, courts and prisons that will all have to cope with a dramatically increased caseload.
The biggest group by far among the recent and planned releases are the 50 men and three women associated with the Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia (Mujahidin Indonesia Timur, MIT) in Poso. This puts an extra burden on the local government to undertake effective rehabilitation programs for prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. The good news is that district police in Poso appear to have a useful program in place, but it too will be strained by the high number scheduled to return home.
The releases underscore how diverse the violent extremist community in Indonesia is and how strong are its territorial roots. Among the clusters of prisoners out or due out by the end of 2019 are groups from West Java and Solo that are sometimes tied to specific neighbourhoods. These groups long pre-date ISIS and will long outlast it. Their goal was always an Islamic State in Indonesia, not necessarily a caliphate, and one long-term challenge for Indonesia will be how to persuade such long-entrenched groups to disengage from violence.