Parliament can’t finalize new anti-terrorism law revisions because it can’t agree on definition of terrorism

In the wake of last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Indonesia, President Joko Widodo urged the House of Representatives (DPR) to push through a draft revision to the country’s anti-terrorism law that would give the government increased powers to take preventative action against terrorist acts.

Jokowi urged the country’s legislators to finalize the revised bill “as soons as possible”, saying that they had until the end of June to make it happen or he would pass a decree known as a Perppu (Government Regulation in Lieu of Law) that would temporarily grant the government the powers outlined in the revision.

Given the shocking and traumatic nature of last week’s attacks, many thought the DPR would quickly resolve any disagreements they had about the revision (which has been under discussion since 2016) in order to show the public they were taking strong action against terrorism. But the same issue that prevented the revision’s passage previously continues to do so. Specifically, they can’t agree on the definition of terrorism.

Here are the two definitions of terrorism currently being debated by lawmakers:

  1. Terrorism is an act that uses violence or the threat of violence to create an atmosphere of widespread terror or fear, which can cause mass casualties, or cause damage or destruction of strategic vital objects, the environment, public facilities or international facilities.
  2.  Terrorism is an act that uses violence or the threat of violence that creates an atmosphere of terror or fear in a way that can cause mass casualties and / or cause damage or destruction of strategic vital objects, environment, public facilities or international facilities with motives that are ideological, political or intention to threaten state security.

Some political parties want to use the second definition in order to narrow the scope of the revision, which gives the government broad powers to use against those suspected of terrorism. For example, it would allow the police to hold terror suspects longer without trial, let them more easily arrest people for spreading hate speech or radical content online, as well as make it illegal for people to take part in para-military training or joining proscribed groups.

One member of the committee discussing the bill, PPP politician Arsul Sani, argued that the second definition was necessary to clarify the difference between ordinary crimes and terrorism, but posited that having to determine motive would not hamper law enforcement in acting against potential terrorists. 

Deputy house speaker and Gerindra member Fadli Zon agrees. “That’s what I think the definition should be, so there is no ambiguity about who is called a terrorist, not everyone is a terrorist just because they criticize the government or do not like government policy,” he said as quoted by Detik.

Currently, eight political parties support the second definition while two other factions, PKB and the ruling PDI-P party, support the first definition. Lawmakers are meeting with Minister of Human Rights Yasonna Laoly today to further discuss the definition.

The country’s current anti-terrorism law (Law no. 15/2003 on Criminal Terrorist Action) was passed soon after the 2002 Bali bombings and has often criticized for being inadequate in that it largely limits authorities to merely being responsive against attacks.

However, activists have warned that some of the suggested revisions to the anti-terrorism law, such as allowing authorities to wiretap suspected terrorists, goes against the basic principles of human rights and could easily be misused, depending on what definition of ‘terrorist’ lawmakers go with.

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