Jakarta top cop wants ISA-style anti-terror law

Weak legislation now impedes probes, says General Sutanto.

INDONESIAN national police chief Sutanto has called for tougher laws to fight terrorism, suggesting that Jakarta adopt the Internal Security Act (ISA) that is in place in Singapore and Malaysia.

He said that current legislation impeded investigations.

“We need something like the ISA because it has been effective in cracking down on terrorist cells in our neighbouring countries,” he told The Straits Times in an interview on Thursday. “We are looking at options to strengthen our laws.”

General Sutanto was in Washington on a four-day working visit. He held talks with senior officials from the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Indonesian officials said that the trip here – his first as police chief – was aimed at forging closer links, especially in fighting terrorism.

The four-star general said that American technological assistance, among several other things, would be critical. But Jakarta was also looking for ways to refine its anti-terrorism laws to deal with the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI) and other extremist groups in Indonesia.

He revealed that current legislation placed law enforcement officials in a dilemma. They were compelled to produce substantial proof to apprehend and take suspects to courts.

An ISA equivalent could enable detention on the basis of voice recordings of terror suspects.

“This regulation will allow the police to arrest terrorist suspects with minimum evidence,” he said.

A second consideration in favour of the ISA was that it allowed indefinite detention.

“We have a serious problem. We can only hold someone for a week, and then release him if we cannot find more evidence against him.

“It takes months or even years to work on terror suspects so that they will reveal the extent of their network.”

Despite several arrests made over the years, some militants, including Malaysian JI bomber Noordin Mohamed Top, remain at large.

Gen Sutanto’s comments on stronger legislation take place in the face of increasing hostility at home from Muslim groups and politicians towards the Indonesian police for cracking down on Islamic extremists.

Detachment 88, an American- and Australian-trained police anti-terror squad, this week shot dead 15 suspected extremists in conflict-ridden Poso in Sulawesi.

Cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of the JI, threatened to call for holy war against the police.

“If Muslims are being killed, then we must fight back,” declared the 69-year-old who was recently released from prison.

“If necessary, we must organise a jihad.”

Despite this backlash, Gen Sutanto – who once served as the adjutant to former president Suharto – maintained that tougher law and enforcement was the only way to deal with radicals across the sprawling archipelago.

He maintained that opposition was marginal. Indeed, the Poso crackdown won support from Vice-President Jusuf Kalla and other government officials, and most of the local media.

But introducing an ISA would invite a different response, raising concerns that Indonesia would be stepping back to Suharto-style draconian laws. Observers believe there will be strong public resistance.

Former attorney-general Marzuki Darusman told The Straits Times: “I do not think Indonesians will be ready for that. They will see it as a dramatic setback for democracy.

“The current anti-terrorism laws are not perfect, and we need to give it more teeth.

“But introducing legislation that allows for detention without trial will need a lot of convincing, and I am not sure the government will be up to it.”

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