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Update on Indonesian pro-ISIS prisoners and deradicalisation efforts

Terrorism Prisons Rehabilitation Islamic State Indonesia


Prison authorities in Indonesia have had a few small successes in managing extremist prisoners, but overall, structural problems of the prison system and inadequate staff continue to defeat efforts at deradicalisation, disengagement and rehabilitation. Despite much donor funding aimed at improving prison management and capacity to handle high-risk offenders, pro-ISIS inmates continue to recruit and radicalise fellow prisoners with impunity. A few have organised terrorist actions from inside prison more than once, and former prisoners continue to show up in new terrorist plots with alarming regularity.

To the extent that there has been any progress, it has been with the help of a few convicted terrorists who themselves are anti-ISIS and who engage in ideological debates with fellow inmates. Now the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme, BNPT) wants to move these “cooperative” prisoners to a specialised facility in Sentul, outside Jakarta, so it can showcase a deradicalisation program that many see as ineffective. Prison authorities are convinced that the transfer will remove the only people they have on hand to help with hard-line ideologues.

Officials of the Directorate General of Corrections of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights (hereafter Corrections Directorate) are trying to get a better handle on the the situation, and some programs are working. A database on inmates, introduced in 2009, has become an important management tool that is being constantly refined and expanded. Prison staff are more alert to cliques developing among extremist inmates and move more quickly than in the past to separate them. Convicted terrorists are now dispersed among almost 70 prisons in the belief that this will facilitate monitoring and supervision. But the dynamics are constantly changing with a steady influx of new prisoners and release of others. In the first eleven months of 2016, some 120 terrorist suspects were arrested and charged, most of them ISIS supporters, and more than 50 terrorism offenders were released after completing their sentences.

The impediments to effective management remain overwhelming. Prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. Policy on prisons is set by Corrections Directorate at a national level but administrative control of individual prisons rests with the provincial offices of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, a built-in disconnect. Budgeting for prisons is so inadequate that prisoners depend on outside donations for decent food – and the convicted terrorists have a well-organised support network that attracts ordinary criminals into their ranks. Newly arrested prisoners awaiting trial are held in a single police facility, outside the jurisdiction of corrections, that pro-ISIS detainees have come to dominate. Information-sharing about high-risk detainees among police, prosecutors and prison officials remains weak, although all recognise the problem and are taking steps to address it. Building a tool for identifying high risk prisoners remains a work in progress, and post-release monitoring is scattershot and short-lived at best.

This report examines several cases of recruitment of criminal offenders; involvement of released prisoners in terrorist acts; and planning of terrorist operations from behind bars, with one clear lesson: prison authorities have to cut off outside communications and donations, except for food, for convicted terrorists. There is no other option for an immediate short-term fix as the more complex, long-term structural problems are tackled. The report examines why an apparently simple solution has proven so difficult to implement when the benefits are obvious, as can be seen from the case of Aman Abdurrahman, a convicted radical cleric and ISIS leader. Cutting off Aman’s access to a hand phone after police discovered his role in the January 2016 Jakarta attacks has made it easier for prison authorities to work with his followers.

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