Will Indonesia toughen its anti-terror laws after deadly IS-linked attack?

Indonesian president Joko Widodo wants to amend the country's anti-terror laws in the wake of last week's attacks in Jakarta. But some lawmakers remain wary.

Achmad Ibrahim/AP/File
Indonesian policemen patrolled Sunday outside the Starbucks cafe in Jakarta, Indonesia, where last Thursday's attack took place.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called for revisions to the country’s anti-terrorism laws in the wake of last Thursday’s attack in Jakarta.

The assault, perpetrated by several men linked to Islamic State (IS), left four civilians dead and more than 20 injured after several explosions and gun battles in the Indonesian capital. It was Jakarta’s first major terror attack since 2009 and the first blamed on IS. Still, some Indonesian lawmakers are reluctant to support Mr. Widodo’s proposed legislation.

“I think that discussions between the House leadership and the President don’t substantially represent the [opinion of the entire] House, especially without prior consultation with the relevant commissions,” Mahfudz Siddiq, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Commission I for Defense, Foreign and Information Affairs, told The Jakarta Post, adding that it is “too early to support” Widodo’s plan.

Indonesia has been targeted by terrorists in the past: Islamist militant group Jemaah Islamiyah carried out several attacks throughout the 2000s and still remains active in the country. 

Widodo’s proposal for new regulations appears to be aimed at the hundreds of Indonesians believed to have traveled to join IS in the Middle East. Officials worry that many plan to or already have come back to Indonesia and could put their military training to use. 

"This is very pressing,” Widodo said, according to Reuters. “Many people have left for Syria or returned.”

Widodo’s proposals could grant Indonesia's national intelligence agency the power to detain suspects for up to two weeks and allow authorities to arrest citizens without hard evidence of links to criminal or terror activities. Another change would impact Indonesians' attempts to travel to join foreign jihadist groups and later come home. There is no law against their return at present. 

Critics say these revisions could be hastily enacted in ways that infringe on civil liberties. Indonesia restored democracy in 1998 after decades of dictatorship which has left a legacy of distrust towards blanket powers for security forces. 

"The concern is they want to have the power to arrest anyone,” Andreas Harsono, Indonesia Researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Voice of America (VOA). 

While Widodo does have some support within the legislature, the struggle over the anti-terror plan could lead him to issue a Perppu to cement the initiative into law. A Perppu, similar to an executive order, would give Widodo the power to introduce his revisions to the House and allow for only a yes or no vote from the lawmakers.

Without the Perppu though, it could be a while before Indonesian lawmakers discuss and potentially ratify the motion.

“The legislature has been notoriously slow and has a massive backlog on the issues it needs to deal with,” said Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Center Director Greg Barton via VOA. “The chances of quickly dealing with this issue are not good."

Some politicians, such as Mr. Siddiq, still hope that the resolution can reach the House as standard legislation. “I would suggest they do a comprehensive review of the situation - there’s no need to be reactive or divisive,” he told the Jakarta Post.

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