IN FOCUS: How Indonesian prisons are battlegrounds for deradicalisation

JAKARTA: Dete Aliah has been concerned in deradicalisation efforts for virtually a decade in her capability as the chief director of Society Against Radicalism and Violent Extremism (SeRVE), a not-for-profit organisation in Indonesia.

One specific inmate by the title of Siti (not her actual title) has been on her thoughts lots currently.

She noticed Siti for the primary time in 2017 at a Social Affairs Ministry facility in Jakarta, shortly after the latter was deported by Turkish authorities for attempting to enter Syria to affix the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Siti, a mom of three, on the time was in poor health and bedridden when Aliah was on the facility to interview one other feminine deportee. The two locked eyes however Aliah by no means spoke or formally launched herself to Siti.

Siti was later arrested for financing terrorism-related actions and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail.

It was when Siti was behind bars that Aliah’s work started.

Despite the jail time period, the girl had turn into extra engrossed in her radical ideology. She noticed nothing incorrect with leaving her husband and three kids behind to affix ISIS, in accordance with Aliah.

“She was a hardened radical. She refused to participate in prison activities and cooperate. Prison officials were scared of her and didn’t know what to do with her because there have not been that many terror convicts at the women’s prison,” Aliah instructed CNA.    

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Dete Aliah, a deradicalisation professional and government director of the Jakarta, Indonesia-based not-for-profit organisation, Society Against Radicalism and Violent Extremism. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

Later, Aliah met Siti once more and the latter started to open up slowly. It would require extra conferences earlier than Aliah might persuade Siti to depart behind a few of her radical beliefs.

“Building trust and a relationship does not happen in a day,” Aliah stated. “It happens through months or years. We need to constantly forge that relationship.”

According to the Ministry of Justice, there are round 600 terrorism inmates at the moment serving time in Indonesian prisons. Out of this, 150 are as a consequence of be launched someday this 12 months.

Prisons are key battlegrounds in Indonesia for the deradicalisation of terrorist inmates. 

Lining up within the struggle to get them to show away from a lifetime of extremism are authorities companies and activists, which work collectively in a battle for hearts and minds. 

Against them are extremist teams, which have tried to maintain members devoted to their trigger even whereas they are behind bars.

And in latest months, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the challenges of deradicalisation, after jail visits have been suspended as clusters started to emerge in jails throughout Indonesia. 

Without face-to-face interplay, which they are saying is essential to breaking down obstacles, activists and specialists say that they are preventing an uphill battle. 

Nonetheless, the battle has continued, with the federal government saying that COVID-19 has not hampered total deradicalisation efforts, with lectures and seminars nonetheless being held.

READ: Terror cells in Indonesia continue to recruit and plot attacks amid COVID-19, says senior counterterrorism official


The prisons are an essential enviornment by way of successful hearts and minds. The authorities have official deradicalisation programmes whereas non-government organisations pay common visits to the inmates, hoping to information them again to the fitting monitor. 

Wartoyo recalled how he refused to cooperate initially and even spat at a National Counter Terrorism Agency (BNPT) officer who was attempting to have interaction him.

The 44-year-old was sentenced to jail in 2011 following a foiled plan to poison the meals at a police headquarters cafeteria.

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Wartoyo was once a avenue thug earlier than he was radicalised. For his fourth conviction, he spent 4 years in jail for attempting to poison meals served on the Jakarta police headquarters’ cafeteria. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)  

He had hatched the plan along with pals from a non secular dialogue group, which he joined with the intention of turning into a superb Muslim however grew to become radicalised as a substitute after being uncovered to sermons by radical ideologues like Abu Bakar Bashir, the religious chief of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Before he was detained, Wartoyo would go to convicted terrorists in jail with the group as a present of help.

So sturdy was Wartoyo’s conviction throughout his jail time period that JI determined to nominate him because the chief of 13 terrorism inmates who have been incarcerated on the Cirebon jail in West Java.

His turning level got here one evening when Wartoyo was attempting to go to sleep, hungry after all of the cells have been locked. He didn’t have sufficient to eat that day.

“I called out to the cell next door, politely asking if anyone there had some food to spare. A voice replied, asking me to extend my hand. This person then handed me a plastic bag filled with rice and instant noodles,” he stated.

“The following morning, I immediately went to the cell next door. I needed to know who gave me food last night. It was a Chinese Christian man who was there for a drug offence,” he stated.

“I hugged him for he had saved my life. He was helping a fellow man. He didn’t care whether I was a terrorist or that I was taught to treat non-Muslims as enemies. His act of kindness completely changed me.”

Wartoyo quickly started opening as much as deradicalisation efforts by activists and the federal government. “It got the other terrorism inmates angry. They saw me as their enemy,” he recalled.

Wartoyo stated though he participated within the deradicalisation programme, he refused presents of parole and remissions, as he felt that he deserved his four-year sentence.

Another former terrorist who was deradicalised in jail is Gilang Nabaris, 27.

While finding out laptop engineering at a polytechnic, he started to have interaction with Islamic teams, as he wished to see if they’d any programme to ship humanitarian support staff to the Middle East.

He was instructed by a bunch to ship cash to an account within the Philippines to show his loyalty. The cash was finally used to buy weapons used within the Marawi battle and he was arrested beneath fees of financing terrorism actions in August 2017.

While in jail, Nabaris steadily noticed issues otherwise.

“I realised that while they appear to be united outside of prison, inside the prison system there are animosities, arguments, divisions and suspicions towards one another. It got me thinking: ‘Are these the people who are supposed to run an Islamic state?’” Nabaris recounted.

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Computer engineer Gilang Nabaris was simply 24 when he was arrested and later convicted of financing terrorism actions. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

“I also observed that the edicts coming out of Syria were becoming more and more absurd. We were told not to eat food served by the guards. We were told not to conduct trade with non-Muslims. We were told to label our parents as infidels if they do not share the same view as us.”

Nabaris then determined to enrol within the BNPT’s deradicalisation programme. He solely served three years of his four-year sentence.

READ: Indonesia police hunt suspected IS-linked militants after four killed

Khariroh Maknunah, the outreach director at International Peacebuilding Institute famous terrorists have time to replicate on their previous whereas incarcerated, and require ethical help.

“They spend a lot of their time being locked up inside their cells. They long for connection, especially terrorism inmates who are sometimes isolated or even ostracised by the rest of the prison population. They have more time to reflect on their past and contemplate on their future,” she stated.

“That is why it is relatively easier to reach out to terrorism inmates, to make that connection, to build a relationship and create trust during their time in prison compared to when they are released.”

Maknunah stated that after belief is constructed, counsellors can start to problem the unconventional views and over time, inmates turn into extra receptive to new concepts and ideas. 

“It will be very difficult if that initial process of trust building only begins when they are out of prison,” she stated.


One purpose NGOs usually really feel they’ve a big function to play in reaching out to terror inmates is that the federal government’s official deradicalisation programme within the prisons is just not obligatory for the inmates.

BNPT’s deradicalisation programme largely attracts prisoners who’ve already selected their very own to distance themselves from radical concepts.

The deradicalisation curriculum has been criticised by some for counting on seminars and discussions with obscure matters like patriotism and spiritual concord, introduced within the type of lectures with little room for interplay.

However, the BNPT additionally gives entrepreneurship lessons and psychological counselling periods. Additionally, participation within the programme would possibly permit inmates to entry authorities support after they are launched. Inmates are additionally rewarded with sentence discount and early launch in the event that they be a part of the programme.

Indonesian inmates at a Jakarta prison talk via video to family members after visits were stopped

Indonesian inmates at a Jakarta jail speak through video to members of the family after visits have been stopped due to coronavirus fears. Authorities have now gone additional, and are releasing tens of 1000’s of prisoners in a bid to cease the unfold of the virus in overcrowded jails AFP/HANDOUT

The promise of presidency support and early launch is probably not interesting sufficient to hardened terrorists. In 2018, the BNPT revealed that 630 terrorism prisoners had been launched up till then. Out of this, 325 had chosen to participate within the deradicalisation programme.

“We cannot force them. If the inmates are not cooperative and resist our efforts, what can we do? Sometimes, they even threaten us. Even though we have made it clear to them that there are consequences (for not participating). They will be ineligible for sentence reductions or early parole if they don’t,” BNPT’s deradicalisation director Irfan Idris stated when interviewed by CNA. 

READ: Indonesian government to step up efforts to tackle radicalisation among civil servants

“You have to be patient with these people. We keep persuading them to join the programme. We believe that even the most hardcore militants who are steadfast in their radical ideology can change and some people have. It takes time, but slowly they can change,” he added.

He declined to reveal what number of are at the moment taking part within the programme. 

“The number fluctuates and is very dynamic. Even if I give you a number now, it will no longer be true the following day, because there are those being released and those joining the programme for the first time, he said.


With COVID-19 clusters emerging inside prisons, the justice ministry’s directorate general of corrections has decided to bar NGOs and visitors from visiting detention facilities across Indonesia.

The NGOs are now cut off from the inmates they used to counsel and those they wish to reach out to.

“The pandemic has made our jobs more difficult because we cannot visit prisons and meet these inmates personally, particularly inmates who we have never met before,” Maknunah from International Peacebuilding Institute stated.

Machmudi “Yusuf” Hariono, a terrorist who had denounced his outdated methods, might attest to the significance of the private contact.

He was a international terrorist fighter with the Abu Sayyaf armed insurgent group within the Southern Philippines for two years, and was arrested again in Indonesia when the police found that the JI stashed explosives in his rented home within the metropolis of Semarang.

He was sentenced to 10 years in jail, though he solely served six years earlier than he was paroled. 

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Reformed terrorist Machmudi “Yusuf” Hariono posing in entrance of his home which doubles as a secretariat for an organisation he based, Persadani Foundation. The group gives emotional help to fellow reformed terrorists and reaches out to militants to counsel them. (Photo: Nivell Rayda) 

In January 2020, Yusuf and Wartoyo, the previous JI-member, based a proper organisation referred to as the Persadani Foundation for reformed terrorists to speak to and help one another. It now has 30 members with extra expressing curiosity in becoming a member of.

Yusuf stated his strategy varies relying on the inmate. Sometimes, he stated, all it took was to fulfil the inmate’s private wants.

“I once met an inmate who was still very deep in his radical beliefs. Since he was arrested, he did not get a chance to meet his wife and kids. They were in Malang (East Java) while he was incarcerated in Nusa Kambangan (Central Java),” he stated.

Yusuf raised cash to fly his members of the family to the closest airport in Yogyakarta. He then drove the household to the jail for a reunion.

“After that, he approached me. ‘Brother, can you tell the police to put me into (the government’s) deradicalisation programme so I can go home fast?’ … He was released early and renounced his (radical) beliefs.”

Yusuf added that his standing as a reformed terrorist gave him credibility within the eyes of prisoners and ex-convicts, together with those that nonetheless maintain on to radical ideologies.

He desires to succeed in out to extra terrorism inmates however the pandemic has made his mission just about not possible.

“Before the pandemic, I can visit Nusa Kambangan (high-security prison) 10 times a year. Now, I cannot do that. It’s slowing us down and the only option left is to focus our work to help those who are free as well as the prisoners’ families,” he stated.

READ: Abu Bakar Bashir, Indonesian cleric linked to deadly Bali bombings, freed from prison


Noor Huda Ismail, a terrorism analyst and a visiting fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), concurred that the pandemic is a roadblock to the deradicalisation efforts.

“The only people with access to these prisoners right now are the guards. The government can train them so they can act as mentors and counsellors. However, some prisoners see prison guards as someone they can’t trust, unlike NGO workers and reformed terrorists whom they would still listen to,” he stated.

“The future of the deradicalisation efforts is looking bleak right now. This pandemic is not going away anytime soon and social distancing, strict health protocols and various restrictions are becoming the new normal.”

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Reformed terrorist Machmudi “Yusuf” Hariono, posing in entrance of a home in Semarang metropolis, the place he as soon as stashed a tonne of explosives. (Photo: Nivell Rayda) 


Robi Sugara, the chief director of non-profit Indonesian Muslim Crisis Centre, added: “Various research have proven that approaching terrorism inmates on a private degree, conducting a type of social intervention programme and serving to them reintegrate again to society are the simplest methods to deradicalise somebody.”

“During the pandemic, we are limited to staging online discussions and seminars and we still don’t know how effective they have been. No one has so far come up with the right formula on how to address these challenges and gauge whether these formulas will be just as effective as the personal, face-to-face methods.”


The government says otherwise.

Idris, the deradicalisation director of BNPT, noted that the pandemic has prevented NGOs from personally engaging the prisoners. However, COVID-19 has not hindered the agency’s deradicalisation programme, he insisted. Lectures and seminars are still being held, he said.

“Since March 2020, we have been limited physically to conduct deradicalisation because of the coronavirus. But we continue to conduct deradicalisation by phone or virtually through virtual conference with terrorism inmates in prisons as well as outside of prisons,” he said.

“In fact, outside of prisons, the intensity is higher because we can do it over the phone or online … In some ways, we can do it more efficiently because our mentors can stay at home.”

He said that in prisons, the inmates are not allowed to have mobile phones. “But we are facilitated by jail guards. So, there’s just a few hindrance by way of methods we are able to do it, however the materials remains to be conveyed.”

As for considerations that terror teams might be able to affect the prisoners, Idris identified that those that are open to the deradicalisation programme are segregated from the others who opted out.

He added: “We are monitoring these former inmates, whether they participated in our programme or not.

“We have forged strong relationships with the military, local police and local government. They are the ones actively monitoring these ex-convicts, building communication and preventing them from returning to their old network or be in touch with groups that are still exposed to radical ideologies.”

READ: Commentary – Who bears responsibility for the children of Islamic State?

READ: Indonesia jails two leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah on terror charges

Meanwhile, Aliah remains to be nervous about Siti, who is because of be launched in July. She hopes that Siti wouldn’t commit extra acts of terrorism or affect these round her.

“If it weren’t for COVID-19, I would have gone to see her every chance I could. This woman needs to be deradicalised. I need to meet her face to face to change her mind and she was just starting to soften up,” Aliah stated.

“Inmates are most vulnerable when they are in prison. They have more time to reflect on what they have done and they need someone to talk to. Their time in prison is a golden opportunity to build trust and change their mindsets. When they are free, it is next to impossible to forge similar ties and gain their trust.”


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