Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Religious leaders back surveillance on militants

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Religious leaders have thrown their support behind plans to impose the tight surveillance of a number of districts in West Java -- believed to be home to militants advocating sharia (Islamic law) -- as part of preemptive measures against future terrorist attacks.

Chairman of the country's second-largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah Ahmad Sjafii Ma'arif said on Monday that the tight surveillance was necessary in its attempt to thwart efforts to destabilize the country's security.

"I agree with the measures because monitoring the suspicious activities of citizens is, in fact, part of the police's job," he told The Jakarta Post.

However, Syafii warned that in its campaign against terrorism the police should uphold the due process of the law. "Persons who are captured for suspected terrorist activities should be accompanied by lawyers and their arrests should be based on evidence," he said.

Asked if the move would restrict the freedom of certain groups in exercising their religious duties, the noted Muslim scholar replied with another question: "What does liberty mean if it results in the suffering of innocent victims of bomb attacks?"

West Java provincial police chief Insp. Gen. Dadang S. Garnida said among the regions to be put under tight surveillance was Indramayu regency, where the affluent Al-Zaytun Islamic Boarding school has been accused of serving as the ninth regional military command (KW9) of outlawed militant movement Darul Islam.

Police are also keeping close watch over Cianjur, a regency whose councillors strongly demanded the enforcement of sharia. The regency is also the home-town of Hambali, born Encep Nurjaman, the alleged top operative of the Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) terror group.

Another regency to be surveilled is the country's most densely populated province, Majalengka -- home to the radical movement called Daor Koning -- which for years campaigned for the establishment of an Islamic state.

Dadang said that the police plan to deploy intelligence officers to gather information from local people about their understanding of sharia.

Under the authoritarian regime of the former president Soeharto, intelligence officers were deployed to spy on the religious activities of citizens. Intelligence officers -- from both the police and the Indonesian Army (TNI) -- were present at almost every religious gatherings, such as Sunday services or Friday prayers.

Meanwhile, the professor of history at the Jakarta-based Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Azyumardi Azra, agreed with Sjafii that the police have the authority to monitor the activities of individuals.

"The campaign from the police is tolerable if it is aimed at anticipating future terror attacks," he told the Post.

He also said the practice of keeping watch over suspicious activity was common in any country as it constituted part of intelligence services. "The difference is whether they decide to make it (the surveillance) public or not."

He said that the practice of religion must be in line with law and order.

"Once it goes beyond the corridor of law, the police must make efforts to stop it," he said.