Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jakarta to stiffen laws on terror

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent

INDONESIA is considering tough new anti-terror legislation that would enable detention without charge for up to two years and prosecution of radical preachers who glorify terrorist acts.

The new laws could see the targeting of Muslim clerics such as Abu Bakar Bashir, who gave his blessing to the 2002 Bali bombers but escaped attempts to convict him of terrorism.

Bashir is regarded by a small group of hardline Islamists as a guiding light, although he almost certainly had no direct involvement in recent attacks including the July 17 Jakarta bombings. He spends his time travelling throughout Indonesia preaching his anti-Western message.

He presided at the central Java funerals three weeks ago of two suspected terrorists shot dead by police in relation to the July 17 attacks, describing them as "fighters for Islam" who would be given "God's reward" in heaven.

Thousands of people crowded into the ceremony in the city of Solo to hear Bashir's words.

The head of Indonesia's anti-terrorism desk, Ansyaad Mbai, told The Australian yesterday that encouraging terrorist sentiment should be a prosecutable offence.

"What I think we need, in the sense of increasing our legal capacity, is the criminalisation of certain activities, such as preparation for terrorist acts, encouraging people to be involved in terrorism, and spreading hatred," General Mbai said.

Under current anti-terrorism laws enacted after the 2002 Bali blasts, suspects can be held for just seven days before police must either outline charges or release the accused.

However, General Mbai denied the proposed new laws signalled a return to the repressive days of former dictator Suharto, or that they were an attempt to copy the heavy-handed internal security acts of neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

The retired police inspector-general, who was part of a delegation summonsed to the parliament on Monday to address legislators on the need for the rule changes, said that despite recent advances in Indonesian policing standards, the July bombings were evidence that "our legal protection remains inadequate".

"Terrorism needs to be prevented, and the preventative means we have are through the legal system," he said.

General Mbai cited as proof of Indonesia's systemic inadequacy the fact that one of the men buried by Bashir two weeks ago, Air Setiawan, had previously been arrested on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities and subsequently released.

"That's a lesson that our laws are too soft," General Mbai said.

Parliament has in the past considered and rejected proposals to institute a stand-alone internal security act like Malaysia's or Singapore's, but the current debate revolves around stiffening the already existing anti-terrorism legislation.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group, in a report last week on the support base of Noordin Mohammad Top, the Malaysian believed responsible for the July bombings, warned against a beefed-up legislative approach to the problem.

"Strengthened legislation, harsher sentences for convicted terrorists, and new structural arrangements in the security apparatus (would be counter-productive) unless government agencies make a serious effort to understand and weaken the support base for terrorist activity," the group warned.

Source: The Australian

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