A Four-Component Post-Release Assessment Essential to Prevent Recidivism in Indonesia

Umar Patek, convicted for his role in the 2002 Bali Bombing, as a flag bearer during a National Awakening Day ceremony in 2015. Such demonstrations of loyalty to Indonesia are still considered by the government as an important indicator to measure the success of terrorist deradicalization programmes inside prisons. Credit: ANTARA FOTO


34 of the 56 terrorist convicts at the Gunung Sindur prison, Bogor, West Java, pledged loyalty to NKRI on April 15, 2021. The Indonesian government continues to consider participation in such ceremonies as an important measurement of success of deradicalization programmes. This is evident from recent statements from government officials. Sudjonggo, the Head of the Regional Office of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, West Java, iterated his commitment to such efforts for the other estimated 106 terrorist inmates in West Java. Most of whom are affiliated with Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD).

Pledging Loyalty Remains an Important Indicator of Deradicalization Inside Prisons

Pledging loyalty to NKRI is not only part of deradicalization programmes but also a requirement for a reduced sentence. This requirement, one of three stipulated in the Regulation of the Minister of Law and Human Rights 03/2018, includes written pledges of loyalty to NKRI for Indonesian inmates and written pledges to not repeat acts of terrorism for foreigner inmates. In addition to the three stipulations, terrorist inmates must also be assessed to be of good behaviour and have served 2/3 of their sentences.

Initially, such pledges were only a formality which can be fulfilled by simply signing a document declaring allegiance to NKRI and promising not to repeat acts of terrorism. But lately, pledges must not only be signed but they have to be verbally recited and even video-recorded. This amendment was a follow through from Umar Patek’s highly publicized pledge taking ceremony in 2015.

The expansion to include verbal recitation and video-recording reinforces its importance as an indicator by the Indonesian government. Supporters of this notion argue that those who have yet to depart from their violent ideology would never participate in such ceremonies, despite risking having to serve their sentences in full. Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the spiritual leader of Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), was one of those who refused to do so. For him and other like-minded terrorists, pledging loyalty to NKRI would invalidate their Islam. This signifies their continued belief that Indonesia is a thagut (repressive) country. Abu Bakar Ba’asyir eventually served his sentence in full till early 2021.

Importance of Assessments Post-Release

If pledging loyalty is an important measuring tool inside prisons, what indicators can be used to assess inmates’ continued deradicalization upon their release? Unfortunately, solely relying on loyalty pledges does not prevent recidivism upon their release. There has also been precedence of those who have participated in deradicalization programmes in prisons and yet re-joined their terrorist networks upon their release. Bahrum Naim and Isnain Ramdoni are two examples. Upon their release, Bahrun Naim left for Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) and coordinated numerous terrorist acts in Indonesia while Isnain Ramdon was involved in the 2018 Surabaya bomb.

Providing insights into recidivism in Indonesia, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) reported 94 recidivists out of 825 released terrorist convicts in Indonesia from 2002 – May 2020. This corresponds to roughly 12% who had “relapsed” during this period. This percentage is still too large when compared to cases of recidivist terrorism in the US after 9/11, of which only nine of 561 offenders (1.6%) were re-involved in terrorism.

Unfortunately, post-release assessments are difficult to ascertain especially when inmates are no longer placed in a relatively controlled environment as in prisons. Here, the author argues that instead of a single indicator, post-release assessments of deradicalization should include four components.

A Four-Component Post-Release Assessment

Under the auspices of social reintegration, four components are to be assessed to ensure deradicalization continues post-release. These components were identified based on a study the author conducted on terrorism recidivists in Indonesia. As in social reintegration, continued deradicalization requires the involvement of numerous stakeholders.

First is the inmate’s family. This entails ensuring that the inmate’s family is not part of a terrorist network nor supportive of violent ideologies. If the family is part of a terrorist network or supportive of violent ideologies, active interventions must be given to these families prior to the inmate’s release.   This is important as families are the first to be sought upon the release of terrorism inmates. Therefore, family programmes must also be conducted simultaneously to deradicalization programmes in prisons. It is also beneficial for families who are not part of terrorist networks or supportive of violent ideologies to participate in such programmes to provide them with beneficial tools to assist inmates continue their deradicalization journey upon their release. For inmates and their families who refuse to participate in such programmes, it is important that they are actively monitored either by security agencies or Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) upon their release from prison.

The second is to assess the community’s receptiveness of accepting former inmates. Any form of rejection by the community such as stigmatization can compel former inmates to seek solace from their terrorist networks. Even if these former inmates have participated in deradicalization programmes in prison. Notably, non-participation in deradicalization programmes does not necessarily mean that these inmates will return to their terrorist networks after their release. Through his lawyer, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir has begun conducting discussions on Islam and nationality.

The third is to assess and ensure that former terrorist convicts leave their networks or friends who are still terrorists. The government should assist them in creating new social spaces including jobs. Some former terrorist convicts have even resorted to buying and selling weapons which may be intentionally or unintentionally diverted to terrorist networks. Iqbal Husain and Muchsin are two examples. Iqbal had sold weapons to a terrorist group in Bandung after his release. While Muchsin sold airsoft guns which were used in a terrorist attack on the Jakarta Police headquarters in early April 2021.

The fourth is an assessment whether their religious beliefs are realigned to those that are deemed moderate, particularly those espoused by the two largest Islamic organizations in Indonesia. Through such realignment, they would now have religious justifications to no longer pursue violence. Thus far, former terrorist convicts have realigned to mainly Salafism and that espoused by Muhammadiyah. Realignment to Salafism can be contentious for three reasons: 1) Due to some ideological similarities, lesser effort could be required for former terrorist convicts to realign to Salafism. 2) Within Salafism, not only are there those who reject terrorism, there are those that supports it; commonly labelled as Salafi Jihadism. 3) Adherence to Salafism could inculcate religious intolerance including adherents of other branches of Islam. This is particularly problematic considering Indonesia’s religiously diverse population. Additionally, only a few have adopted principles belonging to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). One notable example is Sofyan Tsauri, a former police officer and terrorist inmate. Though the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, NU does not seem to appeal to former terrorist convicts. This could be due to NU’s Islamic principles being ideologically different to what former terrorist convicts had previously practiced.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence. Republications minimally require 1) credit authors and their institutions, and 2) credit to STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD  and include a link back to either our home page or the article URL.


  • Robi Sugara is an Indonesian terrorism observer and a lecturer at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Islam Negeri Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta.

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