Indonesian Military, Police Pledge to Crack Down on Radical Influencers

Arie Firdaus
2022.03.02
Jakarta
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Indonesian Military, Police Pledge to Crack Down on Radical Influencers Indonesian soldiers stand in formation during a roll call in Banda Aceh, Feb. 2, 2022.
AFP

The Indonesian military and police pledged Wednesday to crack down on personnel who attend religious gatherings involving radical preachers, after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had warned the institutions to improve discipline in their ranks.

Speaking at the annual leadership meeting of the military and police a day earlier, Jokowi also cited cases of soldiers and police discussing controversial government policies in online messaging groups as an example of poor discipline.

“The president’s directive is for the common good to curb the spread of radicalism,” national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told reporters in Jakarta. “If there’s evidence of violations, the Professional Investigator and Safeguard Division [of the police] will take firm action against members.”

The army chief of staff, Gen. Dudung Abdurachman, also told reporters that the armed forces (TNI) would comply with the president’s order.

“Don’t let us make the wrong choice by inviting a preacher who has been exposed to radicalism,” Dudung said. “Don’t let our families be exposed to misguided teachings.”

Jokowi on Tuesday emphasized that members of the armed forces must follow orders of their superiors, noting it is necessary to be selective in choosing a preacher to speak at a religious study session to minimize the spread of radical ideas.

“The same goes for the ladies [wives of TNI and police members]. They can’t just hold gatherings with others and invite preachers as they please in the name of democracy,” Jokowi said. “Be careful lest you invite radical preachers.”

In November, Ahmad Nurwakhid, a director at the National Counter-terrorism Agency (BNPT), said militants linked to the outlawed Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) radical group had tried to infiltrate the Indonesian military, police and government ministries for more than a decade.

One month earlier, police said officers had arrested 876 JI members since the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people. But they warned that the number of members and sympathizers was estimated to be 10 times as many, with 67 JI-affiliated religious schools suspected to be breeding grounds for militants.

JI, which was outlawed in 2008, has not staged a major attack since 2011.

Still, police said they arrested 339 suspected militants belonging to JI and other groups in 2021, an increase of 56 percent from the previous year. Officers also killed 18 suspected militants last year.

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Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo speaks at the annual leadership meeting of police and the military at the military’s headquarters in East Jakarta, March 1, 2022. [Courtesy of the Indonesia Presidential Secretariat]

New capital

Jokowi also warned soldiers and police against getting involved in debates about his government’s plan to move the national capital from Jakarta to Borneo Island, saying that had been approved by the national parliament.

He said he had seen WhatsApp postings where military and police members have expressed opposition to the move.

“There is no such thing as subordinates feeling they are free to go against their superiors. There’s no way,” he said.

In January, Indonesia’s parliament passed a law to relocate the national capital from traffic-clogged Jakarta to a forested region in East Kalimantan province, clearing the way for the construction of the new city called Nusantara. 

Slamet Maarif, a leader of a mass protest that led to the 2017 jailing of former Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy against Islam, urged Jokowi to clarify what he meant by “radical.”

“What is Jokowi’s version of radical? Is it the case that those who are critical [of the government] and the opposition are considered radical?” Slamet told BenarNews.

But Amirsyah Tambunan, the secretary general of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), a semi-official group of Islamic scholars, backed Jokowi’s order.

“The definition is clear,” he said, adding that radical preachers’ sermons lead to acts of extremism and terrorism.”

In an online discussion last month, Irfan Idris, head of the BNPT’s deradicalization program, noted that militants had infiltrated state institutions, including the military and police.

“I’m sorry, the TNI and the National Police are also vulnerable [to religious radicalism],” Irfan said.

Security analyst Anton Aliabbas said Jokowi was demanding full loyalty from the military and police.

“His message can be interpreted that Jokowi wants to ensure full support for government policies that are still controversial, especially the national capital project,” he told BenarNews.

Anton said conversations on messaging apps could potentially be leaked and misused to influence public opinion against the government, something the president wants to avoid.

“Jokowi wants to make sure that debates on WhatsApp groups won’t affect the loyalty of the TNI and the police to the government,” he said.

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