TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - President Joko Widodo staked his own reputation with the planned release of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. The plan exhibited not just the government’s weakness in making important decisions but also its indifference to terrorism, the issue that has beleaguered the country for so long. It is plain ridiculous if the release is merely aimed at garnering votes ahead of the presidential elections to be held on April 17.
Jokowi’s role in the whole process is also baffling. Yusril Ihza Mahendra, the legal counsel of the Jokowi-Ma’ruf Amin’s national campaign team, said the President had given him the mandate to be involved in the process. He also was the one who announced two weeks ago that Jokowi had given the green light to the release of the 81-year-old terrorism convict. Jokowi on the same day confirmed Yusril’s statement calling the release a humanitarian act.
By involving Yusril, who is an essential part of his campaign team, Jokowi mixed up his positions as both the incumbent president and the presidential candidate. All his aides and supporters including vice-presidential candidate Ma’ruf Amin promptly gave him their nods with all kinds of creative excuses.
This dangerous maneuver has catastrophic consequences. Jokowi said Ba’asyir’s release had been reviewed by the political, legal and security affairs coordinating ministry and its experts, however; later when the plan stirred up controversy, it came to light that the plan had never been deliberated. Wiranto, the political, legal and security affairs coordinating minister, even said that the review was yet to be done. The contradicting statements that came out within just days apart show the hasty manner in which the government took such a critical decision.
It was inappropriate for Yusril Ihza Mahendra to take advantage of his tie to the President for the sole interest of his party. His proposal and active participation in the release process may increase the electability of his Crescent Star Party, a minor party that is not likely to meet the minimal threshold votes to grab parliamentary seats. Nevertheless, it is deplorable to make light of the danger of terrorism for the sake of electoral interests.
Everyone knows that terrorism still poses a very serious threat to the nation. Last year, a series of suicide bomb attacks rocked Surabaya including the one that targeted the regional police headquarters. The terror tactics also have become increasingly gruesome now that perpetrators use their family members in carrying out their attacks. Ongoing deradicalization programs seem unable to effectively stem terrorism threats while increasing intolerance among the public provides terrorism a fertile ground to flourish. The least the government can do to stop—or to mitigate—this situation is to take a firm stance against perpetrators. Although it was later scrapped, the plan to liberate Ba’asyir, who refused to swear allegiance to the state, came across as a sign of the government’s faltering commitment to fight terrorism.
Incorrigible Ba’asyir was convicted twice on terrorism charges. First, in 2005, he was sentenced to 2.5 years for his involvement in the Bali bombing on October 12, 2002. Six years later, he was again found guilty of funding terrorist training in Aceh and was given a 15 years sentence.
The government said that Ba’asyir’s family had applied for a conditional release since, besides his ailing health, he had already done two-thirds of his time. Unfortunately for the family, the convict refused to declare loyalty to the Unitary Republic of Indonesia and the Pancasila.
Ba’asyir’s liberation, if realized, will escalate terrorism threats. Once outside, he will be able to communicate with terrorists with ease. Several bombers in the recent bombings were known to have met Ba’asyir in prison. Ba’asyir’s blessing is considered powerful enough to convince them to commit suicide bombings. Ba’asyir’s rejection of democracy and Pancasila, as well as his hostility towards people with different opinions, can easily infect his armies of followers.
Jokowi must now focus on his other strengths to maintain his position in the coming elections. He should not have flirted with such a fundamental issue as terrorism for all the wrong reasons. (*)
Read the complete story in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine