Think-Tank Urges Indonesia to Add Female Prison Officers

Ronna Nirmala
200923_ID_women_Extremist_1000.jpg Dian Yulia Novi, seen here in Jakarta on Dec. 11, 2016, is in an Indonesian prison following her conviction on charges linked to a failed suicide bombing.

Indonesia needs to add female prison case officers whose focus is helping inmates move away from militant groups as the number of women jailed has increased dramatically in the past few years, according to a new report by a conflict resolution think-tank.

Since 2018, Indonesian police have arrested more than two dozen female supporters of the militant group known as Islamic State (IS), according to a report released earlier this week by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC). Only four women had been imprisoned on terrorism charges in Indonesia before the declaration of IS in June 2014.

“Indonesia has managed a rising number of women extremists in prison reasonably well, but the need for more women-specific protocols and more recognition of the work of female case officers (wali) is increasingly apparent,” IPAC said.

As of this month, 39 women are awaiting trial or serving sentences for terrorism-related offenses in prisons and detention center nationwide, the report said. Of those inmates, 25 had been taken into custody since May 2018.

Indonesian authorities should ensure that wali are included in discussions of changes to prison procedures, have access to assessment reports of the prisoner in their charge and are encouraged to share experiences with each other and with the broader counter-extremism community, the report said. Those who succeed in helping inmates disengaged from violent groups should be given opportunities for promotion and pay raises.

“It’s the personal interactions with prison staff and fellow inmates, more than any specific programs that can be key to moderating behavior,” IPAC analyst Dyah Kartika said in a statement accompanying the report.

Officials at the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) and the director general of corrections at the Law and Human Rights Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the IPAC report.

In June, BNPT director Boy Rafli Amar said militant groups recruited women in an effort to elude authorities because they were seen as less of a threat.

“Those involved are generally housewives and ordinary women,” Boy said in an online discussion. “They were exposed to radicalism because of propaganda, on social media and from their husbands.”

Wali’s role

One woman in custody, Dian Yuliana Novi, a would-be suicide bomber, was sentenced to 7½ years for a failed attempt outside the presidential palace in 2016.

Her wali’s initiative to help care for her infant son in prison and encourage other inmates to support her has been credited with moderating Dian’s radical views, according to IPAC. Indonesia allows female inmates to keep their infants until they turn 2 years old.

“I said, if you do not follow the prison regulation, do not ask me for help! It was me who took care of her child and facilitated a video call with her family,” the prison officer was quoted as saying.

“That’s the trick. She is close to me and one other prison officer. She only trusts me. She always asks me for help,” the officer said.

In another case, a wali at a prison in Lampung province on Sumatra Island helped the inmate in her charge, Nurhasanah, who as sentenced to six years in prison for her role in a failed July 2018 bomb attack on a police station in Indramayu regency in West Java. Nurhasanah’s husband, Galuh, was shot and killed by police.

The officer discovered that Nurhasanah was a skilled seamstress, so she got her involved in the prison workplace where she sews COVID-19 masks. Nurhasanah sewed red and white masks – the color of Indonesia’s flag – to sell to visitors to mark the nation’s Independence Day on Aug. 17.

The officer also assisted Nurhasanah in making video calls to her parents.

The IPAC report said facilitating communication with families could prevent inmates from becoming dependent on extremist organizations.

“In several of the cases described in this report, carefully supervised communication, especially with parents, was helpful in terms of moderating women’s views, but contacts with radical spouses produced setbacks,” it said.

IPAC said Indonesia could be faced with the need for many more female case officers, adding they were more important than religious training.

“The role of the wali will also be critical if and when Indonesian women begin returning from camps in Syria – indeed, the absence of any effective rehabilitation programs prepared in Indonesia for the hundreds of Indonesian women and children held there has been one (of many) factors making Indonesian officials reluctant to consider bringing them back,” it said.

“The kind­ness shown by prison staff and interaction with parents (as long as they themselves are not extremist) are far more important in changing attitudes. Women extremist prisoners did not find the material provided by the Ministry of Religion of much value, nor did they have much interest in the occasional visits by religious teachers sent by the government.”

The Indonesian women and children have been held in the Syrian camps following the defeat of IS militants in their last stronghold in that nation in March 2019.

Women in militant organizations

Analysts have said that women play important roles in militant organizations in the country.

In 2018, two families, including women and their children carried out a coordinated bomb attack on churches and police headquarters in Surabaya, the country’s second largest city, killing themselves and 15 bystanders.

Authorities blamed the attack on Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an Indonesian militant  network affiliated with IS.

Philippine authorities, meanwhile, blamed an Indonesian couple for carrying out an attack in January 2019 on a church the town of Jolo, killing at least 23 people.


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