At least 117 former terrorists have been deradicalized since the start of the new year, Indonesia’s security minister said Friday as he responded to criticism that a government program to persuade militants to renounce their violent ways has been ineffective.
Of those, nearly 50 are inmates at high-security facilities on Nusakambangan island who have pledged loyalty to the Indonesian state, said Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.
“During 2020 there are already more than 117 (who have been deradicalized) throughout Indonesia. We have deradicalization programs, so those who have been exposed to or have been involved in terrorism can come to their senses,” Mahfud told reporters in Jakarta.
“In Nusakambangan there are already 48 former terrorist inmates who have returned to the fold of the Republic of Indonesia, pledged loyalty to the state and showed behavior befitting of (citizens) of Indonesia,” he said.
Nusakambangan is a prison island for hardened criminals that lies off the coast of Java. The penal complex consists of several prisons and houses 200 inmates who have been convicted of terrorism charges, according to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.
Mahfud did not say when the 117 prisoners started joining the program. In November 2019, Mahfud challenged a call by House Speaker Puan Maharani for the deradicalization program to be evaluated, saying a review was not necessary.
Revocation of passports
On Friday, the security minister said he and ministry of law officials discussed the idea of revoking passports of Indonesians who had joined the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria and Iraq.
“We can confirm that it is a decision made during a cabinet meeting, that FTF (foreign terrorist fighters) who have been identified will have their passports blocked, as they are not allowed to return,” he said.
The government in early February announced that it would not repatriate hundreds of Indonesians who had joined IS and would block them from returning to their home country, saying the decision was made to protect citizens from the threat of terrorism.
Meanwhile, some observers questioned the effectiveness of the government’s deradicalization programs, citing high recidivism among former terrorism convicts. Zaki Mubarak, a terrorism researcher at the State Islamic University Jakarta, said only about 30 percent of those convicted of terrorism who participated in the program were genuinely repentant.
“It is impossible for people who have been brainwashed for years with radical teachings to change after participating in a one- to three-month deradicalization program,” Zaki told BenarNews.
He said those programs should be reviewed and updated to better assist those former inmates who want to change.
“Supporting them through work training programs and providing working capital is also very necessary. At the same time they can be monitored and take part in anti-radicalism campaigns,” he said.
On Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Miyake told a security conference in Jakarta that the Indonesian government should be transparent about what works to instill confidence in its deradicalization efforts.
“They seem to be left alone without supervision,” Miyake said of the former militants. “The government needs to do something so they don’t rediscover radical ideology.”
A 2016 report by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), a Jakarta-based think tank, said poor prison infrastructure, overcrowding and inadequate staff aided in facilitating radicalism.
“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 deradicalization, disengagement and rehabilitation,” IPAC said at the time.
Despite donor funding aimed at improving prison management and capacity, pro-IS inmates continue to recruit and radicalize fellow prisoners with impunity, it said.
“A few have organized terrorist actions from inside prison more than once and former prisoners continue to show up in new terrorist plots with alarming regularity,” IPAC said.