On the last Pancasila Day (1 June 2023), 76 terror convicts at Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor declared their loyalty to the Republic of Indonesia and relinquished their baiat (pledge of allegiance) to violent extremist leaders. The number of participants in this ceremony was multiple times higher compared to similar events in other prisons. Usman Haidar bin Seff (Ustadz Fahim), a prominent Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)-linked cleric and Farid Okbah, former board member of the government-affiliated council Majelis Ulama Indonesia (Indonesian Ulama Council/MUI) were among them.
The well-prepared ceremony was designed with a psychological approach intended to strengthen the commitment of inmates to support Indonesia. This was exemplified via three activities.
First, national songs were played to remind participants of the sacrifices for Indonesia to achieve independence.
Second, During the ceremony, officials also demonstrated their acceptance of the terror inmates as regular members of Indonesia’s society. Notably, R. Andika Dwi Prasetya, a representative of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, hugged each inmate during the event. Such an act functions to instill a sense of acceptance and ostensibly forgiveness for their past acts of terrorism. Andika also spoke to inmates in a manner that could resonate with them. In his remark, he invited participants to give shalawat (greetings) to Prophet Muhammad and prayed for participants using phrases they were familiar with. For example, he prayed for Allah to consider the willingness of inmates to support Indonesia as a basis for them to enter heaven.
Third, the ceremony entailed inmates’ active participation. They were invited to perform Indonesian traditional dances and read poetries, while wearing traditional costumes, signifying their allegiance to Indonesia’s unity in diversity (bhinneka tunggal ika) principle.
The ceremony is a culmination of multiagency efforts in conducting in-prison deradicalization programs as well as a point in the inmates’ journey towards deradicalization. Moving forward, what measures and steps must be considered for these 76 inmates, as well as future terrorist prisoners who wish to relinquish their allegiance to the violent cause?
The points below are worth noting.
Regular monitoring during and post imprisonment is crucial as continued psychological and theological assessments are necessary. Relinquishing baiat to a violent extremist cause, while pledging allegiance to Indonesia, does not guarantee that they will not fall back to the old ways.
Furthermore, it is more challenging for those who had played important roles in their groups or had been involved for years to change their worldviews. Of the 76 inmates, Ustadz Fahim is a likely example. Before being nabbed in 2021, he actively preached violent ideologies and supported JI founder Abu Bakar Ba’ashir. His frequent sermons garnered a substantial following that his supporters continued to preach his ideas while he was incarcerated. His experience to be a combatant in Afghanistan also gave him more credit on the view of his followers. These staunch supporters could prove to be a hurdle for Ustadz Fahim to truly abandon his past worldview, as they might assert pressure on him to return to his violent ways.
While incarcerated, monitoring should also be extended to individuals and family members who regularly visit and interact with inmates. This is to ascertain whether they present a negative influence on inmates. Indeed, family members could serve as either a dampener or reinforcer of the inmates’ radical beliefs.
A study conducted from 2016 to 2018, in which I participated as a primary investigator, discovered that several wives supported what their husbands’ violent activities in the past. A wife in Central Java, for example, did not consider the killing a pastor, which her husband committed, a mistake. She has held this view since before and event after her husband’s imprisonment.
Similarly, several wives in Central Sulawesi, supports terror operations carried out by their jailed husbands. These wives from Poso believed that Muslims are being oppressed by the Christians, who make up the majority of local population. In an interview, an inmate’s wife stated, “Over here there is no one who is a brainwashing. We are all victims of slaughter, so this is for defense so we don’t get slaughtered”. The wives espoused such views to justify the terror act the husbands carried out.
Based on this finding, the wives of the 76 inmates in Gunung Sindur should also be the primary subjects of deradicalization and receive relevant intervention from the authorities, in parallel with their husbands.
In terms of monitoring of visitors who wish to see terror inmates, it is true that prison administrations have applied strict visitor restrictions, such as only allowing family members to enter prison. Nevertheless, it is mostly enforced in maximum security prisons like Nusa Kambangan and not in medium- and low-risk prisons. Observation and data collected display the same result, showing that individuals outside family members can visit prisoners.
Gunung Sindur prison has collaborated with the mobile brigade of the police to check visitors; however, their responsibility seems to focus on inspecting what the visitors bring rather than identifying potential affiliations of them. In addition, their task also cover visitors of drug convicts, not specifically terror inmates.
The stake is higher as supporters of violent extremist groups typically continue to give support and try to engage with prisoners. The reason for this varies, including their sense of brotherhood with inmates and their determination to help the latter retain their radical beliefs.
Many give material support as well. In certain events such as Ramadhan, they care packages containing things like dates to prison. Interestingly, such care packages were purchased with money collected from donation which was marketed on social media, the campaign of which also states that the packages would be delivered to prisons.
Lastly, correctional officers and related institutions need to undertake efforts to help inmates prepare for their economic resilience after their release, not only during their imprisonment period. Thus far, prison administrations have offered multiple entrepreneurship training and skill development to each prisoner.
In a Semarang prison, in West Java, for example, prison officers allow terror convicts to sell Turkish kebabs to visitors. Similarly, the prison in East Jakarta facilitates inmates to sell cooked food inside prisons. The food was prepared by the wives and transported to prison while they are visiting their husbands. In a Sidoarjo prison, terror inmates are facilitated to manage fishponds and small farming. Additionally, many inmates across the country also produce Arabic calligraphy for sale.
Nevertheless, many in-prison entrepreneurship programs could not be continued after inmates’ release due to the inability to sell their products or apply their entrepreneurship knowledge in real society. Prison administration can actually offer wider options. Writing activities, for example, is a possible avenue despite it being a rarity currently in prisons. An ex-JI convict Arif Budi Setyawan has proven just that. He wrote articles, including in English, during his imprisonment and published books after his release.
Other initiatives such as cooking and culinary programs, video editing, information and communications technology (ICT), digital marketing, and others should be considered as well. Current programs tend to target basic common skills and largely ignore these potential areas. Kedung Pane prison in Semarang, for instance, upholds programs such as tailoring, welding, carpentry, fishery and farming, printing, soap making, and mat making, but does not provide programs in ICT.
This situation highlights the necessity to enhance the preparedness of post-prison monitoring, which will be necessary to severe the inmates’ dependence on their old circle. The Indonesian government should also be aware of the existence of charity organizations that are ready to regularly support inmates and their family members, which potentially pulls inmates back to their old communities.
In sum, despite their symbolic abandonment of the violent cause, the deradicalization process of the 76 inmates continues. Intensive follow-up monitoring and deradicalization program targeting the inmates and family members must be conducted. Although in many cases husbands take dominant roles in the family, examples above show that wives of extremists can also influence or reinforce their husbands’ radical beliefs. More worrying is the recidivism rate in the country in the past 20 years, which stood at 11.39%. Thus, there is an imperative to rethink options for sustainable initiatives that meet inmates’ needs in post-prison life that goes beyond just entrepreneurship programs, as not everyone has an acumen to run business. Wider options for alternative educational activities should be facilitated so that they can explore new interests.