Prisons Undermine Indonesian Anti-Terror Effort

JAKARTA ~ Indonesia’s strategy of reaching out to convicted terrorists and weaning them off violence is being hampered by poor security and corruption in the nation’s prisons, a think tank warned this week.

Widespread corruption and weak prison regulations are holding back the modest gains of Indonesian police’s “deradicalization” program for Islamic militants, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Indonesia has grappled in recent years with violence by religious extremists, most notably bombings against Western targets in Bali and Jakarta blamed on the Southeast Asian Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) network, and inter-religious violence in the central Sulawesi region of Poso.

Indonesian police have pursued a policy of offering jailed radicals financial assistance and religious counseling in order to coax them into turning against their former comrades.

“One premise (of the policy) is that if through kindness, police can change the jihadi assumption that government officials are by definition ‘thoghut’ (anti-Islamic), the prisoners may begin to question other deeply held tenets,” the report said.

Prisoners who responded favorably to overtures from police were then introduced to arguments from Muslim scholars against the use of violent tactics such as the bombing of civilian targets, the report said.

Despite giving cautious support to the police approach, the ICG argued that the shambolic state of security and entrenched corruption in Indonesian prisons was hampering its effectiveness.

Deradicalization efforts are made “infinitely harder” by poor prison security, which drives extremists to seek safety in numbers from the threat of prison gangs and allows their leaders to “recruit ordinary criminals and prison wardens to their cause,” the report said.

Corruption among staff reinforced radical perceptions that government workers were “un-Islamic,” while also allowing for the widespread use of communications technology such as mobile phones, it said. These give inmates an opportunity to proselytize and maintain organizational links.

“Unless prison corruption is tackled, jihadis, like narcotics offenders, murderers, and big-time corrupters will be able to communicate with anyone they want and get around any regulation designed to restrict their influence over other inmates,” the report said.

Around 170 people are currently serving sentences in Indonesian jails for charges related to extremist violence, less than half of them members of JI, the report said.

Three people are currently on death row for their role in the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people.

Police have trumpeted the cooperation of one man involved in the bombings, Ali Imron, who is serving a life sentence for his role in the attack.

The ICG report stressed however that although Imron has renounced the bombings as a tactic, he has not shifted from a militant fundamentalist perspective.

Rather, the report argued, Imron had been won over to the argument that the bombings were premature because Indonesian Muslim opinion was not yet behind violent confrontation with the West.

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