Indonesia’s New Method For ‘Curing’ Jihadists

Since the Bali attack of 2002, police in the world’s largest Muslim country pray with extremists as part of program to ‘de-radicalize’ them. With only partial success.

JAKARTA - Harry Setya Rahmadi dreamed of "obliterating unbelievers' or "dying a martyr under a hail of American bullets'. Today he is a different kind of young gun, building his resume in the world of foreign exchange. Yusuf Adirima was an adrenalin-charged fanatic who hunted down Christians on the Maluku islands, now he spends his days roasting ducks at a roadside restaurant.

"If these two militants from the shadowy Islamist network Jemaah Islamiyah have renounced violence, it is because we managed to ‘de-radicalise" them when they were in prison" says Petrus Golose, head of the Indonesian police's anti-terror task force.

Since the Bali terror attack in 2002, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world has launched a vigorous campaign against terror. Created in 2004, Detachment 88 groups together Indonesia's elite marksmen, bomb disposal experts and skilled surveillance and infiltration operatives. It has managed to lock up 600 Islamic militants involved in terrorist networks.

But the aim is to dismantle terrorist groups with more than just repression. "Our role isn't just to track down terrorists, but to act as their spiritual advisers', says Golose, a colossus of a man with fleshy lips, who likes to keep a list of his prey in a little dog-eared notebook. "We have chosen to take a gamble, seeing them not as irredeemable criminals but as tormented souls. Our agents understand their psyches. In order to convince them we are not the infidels described by their fanatical preachers, we acknowledge them in Arabic and interrupt our interrogations so we can pray with them."

The idea is to extract information from these extremists in order to disrupt the network, making use of militant leaders who have renounced hard-line tactics to persuade acolytes of the error of their ways.

And yet, the relapse of several ‘de-radicalized" terrorists has highlighted some of the project's failings. Abdullah Sonata, brandished triumphantly by the police as a model of redemption and released from prison for good behavior in 2009, immediately reverted back to his former self. He was in the process of plotting an attack on several prominent figures in Jakarta, including the Indonesian president, when he was arrested for a second time.

Urwah, who spent four years behind bars for his part in the attack on the Australian Embassy in 2004, also reverted to extremist activity on his release from prison. Several supposedly reformed former inmates were also found in newly-discovered terrorist training camps situated in the Indonesian province of Aceh. But Golose, not wanting to jump to early conclusions about the program, believes this long list of so-called failures "does not negate its effectiveness. De-radicalization, like a weight-loss regime, does not work for everyone".

Of the some 200 militants released after serving their sentences, 20 have agreed to build links with the police. The rest are once again involved in extremist activity. "It is not possible to talk about a systematic de-radicalization of all terrorists, but more about giving preferential treatment to those who agree to become informers', reckons Sidney Jones, expert in Indonesian Islamic extremists and director of the international research institute Crisis Group in Jakarta. "You won't change people's thinking with better rations in prison, paying for their children's school fees or other rewards. At the very most, you will get them to disengage from former behavior."

Harry Setya, the now reformed foreign currency exchange broker championed as a model of the program, says essentially the same thing. "I knew that by collaborating with Detachment 88, I would be given perks in prison" he admits. An economics graduate, he was jailed for sheltering Noordin Mohammad Top, the mastermind behind five terrorist attacks, who was eventually killed by the police in 2009. And even if he has swapped Internet sites calling for Jihad in favor of exchange-rate graphs, he still misses ‘the sense of brotherhood" found at the heart of the sleeper terrorist cell he was once part of.

A passion for guns

Ansyaad Mbai, head of Indonesia's anti–terror unit at the Ministry of Home Affairs, explains how Islamists are ruthlessly efficient: "We are engaged in a competition with terrorists who are able to continue recruiting men held in prison; the recruiters are waiting for them with open arms when these men are released."

The former militant Harry Setya confirms: "The prisons are literally schools of Jihad". Iwan Dharmawan, sentenced to death for the attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta in 2004, managed to oversee the training camps of Aceh from death row. Investigators found eight mobile phones in his prison cell. Abdullah Sonata also continued to correspond with his fundamentalist spiritual mentor, Muklash, who entreated him not to renounce his violent ways.

"Detachment 88 has launched itself into a program of prevention, arrests and the de-radicalization of terrorists, but to try and do it all is counter-productive", says Nurhuda Ismail, who runs a rehabilitation organization for former terrorists. "You have to be particularly vigilant about what becomes of terrorists once they are released." Ismail indeed understands the affects of fundamentalist ideas on the psychology of these young people, having himself studied at the Islamic school of al-Mukmin de Ngruki, which counts twenty of Indonesia's most fearsome terrorists as its alumni. "Many of the men we believe have abandoned their radical ideology, still remain faithful to it. At best, I can persuade them to give up action by offering them a skill."

In the outskirts of Semarang, a port town of central Java, Yusuf Adirima, a slight figure in an orange cook's uniform, is considered reformed by authorities. Having undergone combat training in a terrorist camp in the southern Philippines, he was arrested in 2003 in Indonesia with a huge cache of weapons. Freed last year, he now works in a small eating hole at the side of a dusty road. On closer inspection, he handles his ducks like he might wield an M-16. A man of few words, he makes no bones about his intentions. "I would like to take up the fight again. It is my passion. I was only happy when I lived in accord with Jihad."

Having rediscovered a little of his humanity, he explains that he's just had a baby daughter. And her name? He decided to call her Armalite: his assault weapon of choice.

Read the original article in French

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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