Indonesian leaders divided over jihadis’ repatriation
President Widodo is opposed but the government has not yet decided. One major issue is fighters’ legal status. Once home, they are expected to undergo de-radicalisation. For one scholar, “Extremism has already seeped deeply into some key institutions in society and the state”.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Indonesian government has not yet decided on the repatriation of some 600 Indonesians who joined the Islamic State (IS) group to fight in the Middle East.
Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi had made an announcement to that effect yesterday, but this has sparked an animated debate that has divided political leaders and public opinion.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has expressed his opposition to the idea, as has Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mohammad Mahfud MD who told the press last night that the issue was still being discussed among top government officials.
“Two options are on the table,” Mahfud explained, “repatriating [Indonesian] foreign terrorist fighters or leaving them in the Middle East. At present, the government is working on a final draft of what to do vis-à-vis these two strategies.
If the first one is accepted, repatriated jihadis would undergo de-radicalisation as set by the government and the National Counter Terrorism Agency (BNPT[*]). However, one of the thorniest aspects of the issue is fighters’ legal status.
“In principle, they have already lost their Indonesian citizenship as they publicly declared their political allegiance to IS,” said Prof Hikmahanto Juwana, international law expert and professor at Universitas Indonesia (UI), who spoke to AsiaNews.
Under Indonesian law, “anyone who swears an oath of allegiance to a foreign country” loses his or her Indonesian citizenship. “The law, however, allows people to regain citizenship” under special circumstances.
Whatever the case, “the government should carefully consider two important aspects before making any decision based on the law or humanitarian grounds.”
“First of all, the government must figure out how far the jihadis have gone to adopt and implement IS’s radical ideology. Secondly, would Indonesian society accept them back?”
“It is necessary to ensure that returnees do not spread extremist ideas among their fellow citizens. I am not referring only to relatives, but also to others and the government of their respective country of origin.”
“I am deeply concerned because nowadays government orders are often not implemented by local administrations. If the latter do not accept the repatriation plan, it would be a serious political error for the central government” to do so.
Dr J. Kristiadi senior political analyst at the Center for Strategic of International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, fears the repatriation of fighters could have a major impact on Indonesian society.
"The fundamentalist ideology adopted by IS has certainly undermined the shared foundations that constitute civil society. This happened simply because certain political programmes are rooted in radical ideas,” he said.
In Indonesia, “Extremism has already penetrated deeply into some key institutions in society and the state – the first seeds were planted long ago.”
“If the government decides for repatriation, it will be necessary to enforce very strict security protocols, since these former fighters will look for any place and social setting to nurture their ideology.”
[*] the Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme