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Humanitarian workers and rights activists Join to underline need for humane treatment of prisoners in Indonesia

Security forces killed 14 MIT members, including six ethnic Uyghurs, in 2016; Seven were killed in 2015, and another 31 captured

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Human Trafficking (Representational Image. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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Palu, September 03, 2016: Indonesia has all but decimated the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), a band of militants once considered the nation’s most deadly domestic terror group.

But in the waning months of a massive security operation in Central Sulawesi where the MIT is based, humanitarian workers and rights activists are joining efforts to persuade 14 people still hiding in the jungles of Poso Regency to turn themselves in.

National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) chief Imdadun Rahmat traveled to the provincial capital of Palu this week to underline the need for humane treatment of prisoners.

“We continue to support and encourage the government initiative to restore the losses suffered by the community following the conflict in Poso, and urge good treatment of those prisoners who were captured alive,” Imdadun told reporters here Wednesday.

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“The main point is, no more blood in Poso. We are taking these steps together, prioritising a persuasive approach,” Central Sulawesi police chief Brig. Gen. Rudy Sufahriadi said as he repeated appeals for the remaining militants to give up.

Officials have approached relatives of remaining MIT members to assure them that those who surrender will not be deprived of their rights, he said.

“Certainly we will treat them well, whether they are captured or surrender during the operation,” Rudy said.

MIT holdouts include women

Estimated to have about 32 members in early 2016, the MIT is now less than half that size, officials said. Holdouts include two of the group’s leaders, Basri (alias Bagong) and Ali Kalora, and their wives.

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Hundreds of security personnel have been on the ground in remote Poso regency since January 2015 in two operations code-named Camar Maleo and Tinombala.

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Security forces killed 14 MIT members, including six ethnic Uyghurs, in 2016. Seven were killed in 2015, and another 31 captured.

In July of this year, Indonesia confirmed that its most wanted militant – MIT leader Santoso – had been shot dead.

Santoso, who had pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State (IS), died in a shootout with security forces in Poso on July 18, police said.

Officials vowed to prolong a security operation aimed at capturing or killing the remnants of the MIT. That operation is scheduled to continue for two more months.

Local police and rights activists say they have received intelligence that the holdouts are willing to surrender, but they are afraid to do so.

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Therapy

After capture or surrender, MIT members will be put in de-radicalization programs, National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chief Suhardi Alius said in Palu on Wednesday.

Community members will be involved in this process, not just religious scholars and government officials, he added.

He described it as an intensive program designed “so that it can really provide therapy for those who have been exposed to radicalization.”

Several other activists and public figures have come to the region to join the efforts and assist local communities traumatized by years of violence.

The group includes members of the medical charity Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (Mer-C). Team 13, as it has been dubbed, is already in Poso but unwilling to talk to the press.

Trapped

Over the past two years, rights activists from the Central Sulawesi Institute for Legal Studies and Human Rights Advocacy (LPS-HAM Sulteng) often protested when security forces killed suspected militants instead of capturing them alive.

They also criticized security forces for failing to capture Santoso and the two other MIT leaders over 18 months.

After Santoso was killed, the chief of LPS-HAM Sulteng, Mohd Affandi, called for a halt to security sweeps.

“If the military operation stops, Team 13 can freely move on the field. Unfortunately the operation is still in progress, so the team will automatically get trouble,” Affandi told BenarNews.

Locals in the impoverished area have been trapped between armed militants and security forces.

“Farmers did not go to work because of they were worried if there is a clash between armed civilian groups and security forces,” Celebes Institute Director Adriany Badrah once said.

In September 2015, three farmers were decapitated in Central Sulawesi’s Parigi Moutong regency. Officials said Santoso’s group was likely behind the killings and urged farmers to suspend agricultural activities for the time being.

Prior to the rise of IS and its spread in the archipelago, MIT was seen as the most dangerous terror group on Indonesian soil, a remnant of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the network that carried out the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings.

Hundreds of Indonesians have gone to Iraq and Syria to join IS, and an IS-claimed attack in Jakarta in Jan. 2015 left eight dead. (Benar News)

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Emergence of Radical Political Groups Raises Concern in Pakistan

Concerns are being voiced about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

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Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
  • Tension in Pakistan increasing due to emergence of Radical Political Groups.
  • Extremist groups are gaining a footing in Country’s politics.
  • According to reports, goverment’s efforts are not enough to stop the emerging radicalism in Pakistan.

Concerns are being voiced in Pakistan about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

Taj Haider, one of the prominent and founding members of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has been in power five times since 1970, told VOA the country is again seeing the trend of extremist groups camouflaging themselves to enter into politics.

“Religion and politics cannot go hand in hand, but unfortunately this is our new reality. We have seen the recent by-elections in Lahore and Peshawar where militant-turned-political parties were able to mobilize people and gather votes,” Haider said. “And these so-called new political parties, with proven terror records, look determined to contest the upcoming elections in 2018.”

In a recent high-level party meeting presided by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the government was sharply criticized on its inability to forcefully implement the National Action Plan and bar proscribed groups from entering the political sphere.

The National Action Plan is a 20-point strategy devised to combat extremism in 2015 that clearly states no banned groups can operate in the country by changing their names or identity.

Analysts say many other political parties are also agitated and wary about the recent political dynamic that has allowed radicalized groups to enter the political arena.

“The government has repeatedly said it will not allow the hardliners to enter into politics, but the reality is different, these parties are going into masses,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a prominent analyst from Pakistan told VOA.

“As long as these proscribed groups stick to their extreme ideologies and violence, they will be a danger to the society and democracy itself.”

Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

PPP’s acute criticism came as Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), inaugurated the office of his newly launched political party Milli Muslim League (MML) in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistan’s Election Commission rejected MML’s party registration application in October, citing its link to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S. designated terror-sponsoring organization.

But MML looks determined to contest the upcoming state and provincial elections. The party has several offices, has launched a website, and has a social media team spreading its messages through Facebook and Twitter.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly emphasized it will not tolerate any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to use democracy and political means to spread their extreme ideologies.

But critics still say the government is not doing enough to stop radical groups from entering politics.

“Look what happened in Lahore’s recent by-election and who can forget the power show by extremists on the roads of Islamabad. The government was totally helpless,” Raees said.

During the Lahore election in September, a MML backed independent candidate secured the fourth position in the race. The by-election was also contested by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TeL), another extremist religious party created to carry-on Mumtaz Qadri’s mission, the bodyguard who killed Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 after he had demanded reforms in the controversial blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was later sentenced to death.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

In November, thousands of followers of the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaik blocked Islamabad roads for weeks and demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, after accusing him of blasphemy. The government eventually surrendered to hardliners’ demands after Pakistan’s military played the role of mediator.

The experts say the emerging trend of politicizing militancy is a danger to democracy. They also point out the sectarian and hardline rationale will further complicate the situation in the country that has been trying to combat terrorism for more than a decade.

“Imagine when these hardliners, through political parties, will spread their extreme views on the grassroots level. What will be the future of this country?” Raees said.

But some politicians dismiss the blending of radicalized groups into politics. Haider believes the people of Pakistan can differentiate between politicians and extremists and will not allow militant-turned-politicians to thrive.

“If you look at the past, the religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami [an old religious party], despite having a huge following, were never able to clean sweep or get majority in the electoral process of the country,” said Haider.

“Even now, with all these efforts, I believe Milli Muslim League or Tehreek-e-Labaik will not be able to pull large numbers during the general elections. Religious or sectarian votes are scattered in the country and can’t be unified and will not help these newly established political parties to win a prominent number of seats.” VOA