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Indonesia: New Counterterrorism Law Imperils Rights

Revise Act to Uphold Protections While Meeting Security Concerns

A counterterrorism police officer stands guard during a security sweep in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 16, 2018. © 2018 Reuters

(New York) – The Indonesian government should seek to amend provisions in the newly enacted counterterrorism law (“CT Law”) that threaten human rights protections, Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent on June 11, 2018, to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and other officials.

After suicide bombings by attackers aligned with the Islamic State in the city of Surabaya in May, Indonesia’s parliament on May 25 approved long-pending revisions to the CT Law. While the new law contains some improvements, it risks undermining human rights and could weaken efforts to counter extremist threats.

“The Indonesian government’s counterterrorism measures should not come at the expense of fundamental rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The new counterterrorism law has provisions that will facilitate rights violations by authorities and ultimately undermine public safety.”

The new law relies on an overbroad and ambiguous definition of terrorism. The definition could be used to target peaceful political activities of indigenous groups, environmental advocates, and religious or political organizations.

The CT Law also allows for prolonged pre-charge and pre-trial detention that increases the likelihood of torture and other ill-treatment in custody. It extends the period that police can detain terrorism suspects without charge from three days in the 2003 law to a maximum of 21 days. And it permits prosecutors to unilaterally extend pre-trial detention for terrorism suspects from 180 days to 240 days.

The new law has provisions that will facilitate rights violations and ultimately undermine public safety.
Brad Adams

Asia Director

The law empowers authorities to “open, examine, and confiscate mail and packages by post or other means of delivery … and intercept any conversation by telephone or other means of communication” suspected of being used for planning or committing terrorist acts. These provisions could be used to authorize massive, disproportionate surveillance that violates privacy rights.

The new law also expands counterterrorism enforcement activities to the Indonesian armed forces. While the deployment of armed forces in response to domestic security threats may be justified in certain cases, extended military deployment in a civilian policing context carries serious risks, in part because military personnel typically do not receive law enforcement training. In addition, the Indonesian military justice system has an egregious track record investigating and prosecuting human rights violations by military personnel.

“The Indonesian government should recognize that violating human rights in the name of counterterrorism merely benefits armed extremists over the long term,” Adams said. “The government should act to revise the counterterrorism law so that it meets international standards.”

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