Indonesia’s Controversial Intelligence Bill

Civil libertarians alarmed at sweeping powers for intelligence agency

Civil libertarians in Jakarta have been alarmed by the passage Tuesday of a bill that gives sweeping new powers to the State Intelligence Agency that critics fear will take the country back to the bad old days of the 30-year Suharto dictatorship and its all-powerful secret police.

The intelligence agency, known by the Indonesian language initials BIN, has been trying push the legislation through the Indonesian House of Representatives for a considerable period but was stymied until last week when the bombing of a church in Solo caught intelligence officials by surprise.

The passage comes at a time when other governments in the region are starting to loosen up, however slightly. Malaysia, across the Strait of Malacca, has agreed to phase out its draconian Internal Security Act and to cut back on other civil restrictions. Even Burma, ruled by a military dictatorship for decades, has in recent weeks begun to loosen its restrictions on its citizens, although it is unsure how far that will go before the generals get queasy.

“The real problem is not the need for more laws — but rather for the government to be serious about enforcing the ones they’ve got — especially in terms of religious tolerance, which is what seems to behind the Solo bombing, the earlier bombing of a police mosque in East Java and other murmurs of unrest,” said a seasoned observer in Jakarta. “Indonesia has all the laws it needs. What it doesn’t have is presidential leadership on issues like tolerance and sectarianism — precisely the things that drive people toward violent acts,”

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Categories: Indonesia

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