Local News

Bashir’s near release a wake up for Australia

The near release of Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged Bali bombing mastermind, was an unwanted reminder of the dangers the old and ailing cleric could pose when he eventually emerges from prison. Bashir, 81, has served more than half a 15-year jail term for terrorism-related charges. He is eligible for parole which was approved by President Joko Widodo last week on humanitarian grounds but rejected after Bashir failed to renounce violence and demands for an Islamic caliphate, and concerns expressed “at the highest level” by Australia. But time off for good behaviour and sentence reductions, a characteristic of the Indonesian judicial system, means he could be released within the next few years or earlier.

“The families of his victims must be distraught by this  development,” said Mohan Malik from the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies (APCSS) in Hawaii.

Analysts stressed Bashir’s influence has waned since his days as spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), blamed for a string of attacks across Indonesia, most notably the twin Bali bombings that left 202 people dead, including 88 Australians, and injured another 209. However, his ability to press Islamic militants into action should not be underestimated.

Malik, a veteran in counter terrorism and defense strategy at Deakin University and Australian National University, said Bashir’s release would provide a fillip among fundamentalists at the clerical level. “It’s a bad sign,” he added. “It will send the wrong signal to these fundamentalists not just inside Indonesia but around the region for decades to come.”

At the height of JI’s terror campaign Indonesian intelligence put the number of Islamic militants at about 5,000. A paltry figure in a country of 264 million but still enough to cause enormous trouble. That figure included militants with family ties to terrorists making up core cells, who were prepared to step-up if called upon. That network, including JI’s offshoot Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), has been dismantled, its leaders jailed, executed or killed by Indonesian security forces. But its former followers still linger.

Bradley Allan, ex-Australian military and Director of Hong Kong-based A2 Global Risk, said Indonesia was sensitive to international concerns regarding Bashir’s release but Widodo could not be seen as bowing to pressure from Australia. “This would play into the hands of both his political opposition and the radical Islamic groups.” It’s a delicate issue already aggravated by Prime Minister Scott Morrison when he raised the prospect of shifting the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem late last year, which angered Indonesia and put a free trade deal, yet to be signed by Jakarta and Canberra, at risk. Allan said Widodo had to tread carefully for fear of upsetting conservative Muslims when considering Bashir’s release and his own need to bolster his Islamic credentials in the eyes of those same Muslims ahead of elections in April.

“Inside or out of jail he will continue to be a vocal supporter of sharia law and call for an Islamic state in Indonesia, even if this requires a Jihad involving groups we would consider to be terrorists and who most Indonesians would consider to be orang gila (crazy people).”

Todd Elliot, a senior analyst with Concord Consulting in Jakarta, said it was feared that Bashir could regain some relevance in terrorist circles when freed. “Once released from prison, Bashir is expected to enjoy a significant amount of media attention and history shows that the cleric is not shy to publicise his hardline views,” he said. And that could also backfire on Widodo. Instead of winning votes from right-wing Islamic radicals in April he also risked fuelling the electoral chances of hardline fringe elements.

“Although much of the public brushes aside Bashir’s views, there are many Islamists – militant and non-violent – who take his word at face value and are easily influenced by the cleric or statements issued on his behalf,” Elliott said. “If Bashir is given a soapbox to express his jihadist opinions, it could bolster the hardline and extremist movements during campaigning for the upcoming presidential and legislative elections.” It was view supported by Malik at APCSS who added political expedience in Bashir’s release would not only anger Australians but also upset the moderates, police, judiciary and a network of Indonesians who worked to end JI’s reign of terror. “By connecting the dots Bashir’s release can work to Widodo’s advantage,” he said.

“It’s related to the election. The president is being held hostage by radicals, I see it in that context.”[Daily Mail January 27, 2019]


Indonesia recaptures French drug suspect after jailbreak

A French drug suspect on the run since escaping from an Indonesian jail nearly two weeks ago has been recaptured, police said on Saturday. Felix Dorfin – who faces the death penalty if convicted – was found hiding in a forest in North   Lombok on Friday night, police said, and was returned to jail in Mataram, capital of the island. Wearing disheveled black clothes and looking tired, Dorfin initially tried to bribe officers to let him go. “He didn’t resist arrest, but wanted to bribe our officers,” North Lombok police chief Herman Suriyono said Saturday, adding he was found following a tip-off from locals in the area. After being checked by medical teams he was returned to jail.

The 35-year-old Frenchman was arrested in September allegedly carrying a false-bottomed suitcase filled with four kilogrammes (8.8 pounds) of drugs – including cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines – at the airport on the holiday island next to Bali. On Friday officials said a female police officer had been arrested for allegedly helping Dorfin escape in exchange for Rp 14.5  million (around $1,000). Jailbreaks are common in Indonesia, where corruption is endemic at all levels of society and inmates often held in squalid and poorly guarded prisons. In 2017, four foreign inmates tunnelled their way out of Bali’s Kerobokan prison.

Two of them were captured a few days later, but an Australian and Malaysian are still at large. [France 14 February 2, 2019]


Trash Attack: Bali’s beaches are the worst they’ve been in 10 years, say authorities

Every year, the wet season rains exasperates Bali’s garbage issues, washing up large quantities of organic and non-organic junk onto its shores. But according to the Badung Regency Environmental and Hygiene Service (DLHK), the ugly problem has reached a record high peak this year. The head of DHLK, I Putu Eka Merthawan, told local news outlet Kumparan that the volume of waste evacuated from the Badung coast recently has been the highest recorded in ten years, with 250 tons of waste being collected every day. Merthawan revealed that, in contrast, a typical rainy season beach haul would garner about 50 tons per day.

The affected stretches include the popular tourist beaches of Kuta, Seminyak, Petitenget, Batu Belig, Canggu, and Jimbaran. Understandably, Bali’s visitors have expressed disappointment towards the cluttered coastlines. “I feel this beach is very dirty, and doesn’t match the photos I saw on the internet,” said Yuanhaiwei, a Chinese tourist, to the outlet. Yuanhaiwei had reportedly been looking forward to eating at Jimbaran Beach’s famous seafood shacks while taking in the usually beautiful scenery.

Local reports say that plastic and wood have been dominating the pile-ups, though coconut shells, sandals and other miscellaneous debris have also been collected. The origin of the extraordinarily large volumes of garbage is still under debate, though Merthawan suspects that some of it could have been carried from relatively long distances given the strong waves of late. “This is not a disaster for Badung alone, this is a national disaster. So, national garbage gathers in the sea and goes to Kuta beach. Badung is a victim of garbage coming from everywhere. People may clean the area but throw it into the sea, and so it runs to Kuta Beach,” he said, as quoted in Kumparan. Up until today, the DHLK continue to evacuate the garbage, assisted by 1,000 personnel, 45 trucks and 4 loader units. Let’s hope that Governor Wayan Koster’s recent ban on single-use plastics, as well as the proposed ten-dollar tourist tax aimed at preserving Bali’s environment and culture, can help ease this ugly situation. [Coconuts Bali January 30, 2019]


Bali police chief unmoved by governor’s tears for organized gangs, saying he will apply the law strictly in dealing with hoodlums and gangs

A decision by the Provincial Chief of Police for Bali, Inspector General Petrus Reinhard Golose to disband three of Bali’s notorious mass organizations (ormas) or gangs remains firm, despite obvious efforts by Bali’s Governor to seek a tame appeasement with the powerful gangs, side-stepping the Chief’s demand that the groups be abolished. As reported by Radar Bali, Governor Koster pleaded he has limited powers to disband ormas and indicated he now considers the matter closed by issuing letters of reprimand to the leadership Laskar Bali (LB), Baladika Bali, and Pemuda Bali Bersatu (PBB). The Governor, in a strangely tearful meeting with the gang’s       leaders, had each group sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) pledging to hold ceremonies at local temples and pledging not to involve themselves in continuing acts of criminality mentioned by the Chief of Police.

Undeterred by the rapprochement between the gangs and the Governor, Police General Golose is reported by an official police spokesman to be steadfast in his desire to disband the three gangs. Hengky Widjaja, speaking on behalf of General Golose, said: “We shall continue to take legal steps (against the gangs). We are firm in our commitment to oppose the gangster activities that takes refuge behind the good name of mass organizations in Bali.” In what could be seen as mocking the Governor who cried when reprimanding the three gangs, Hengky emphasized that the Chief of Police will shed no tears for the three gangs. The Chief of Police also reminded all that he would have no toleration or tenderness towards any form of gangster activity and thuggery parading itself as the good works of mass organizations. In closing, Hengky said: “The Chief of Police for Bali can only shed tears for the people of Bali (who are the victims of criminality).” [Bali Update February 5, 2019]


Vietjet Air gets approval to open routes to Indonesia, but without bikini-clad stewardesses

News about Vietjet Air’s plan to open a direct route from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to Jakarta, and the inevitable question of whether or not the flight would feature the airline’s infamous bikini-clad stewardesses, has been going around since 2017 and now the controversial airline is back in the spotlight in Indonesia. The Vietnam-based airline says it’s finally launching routes to Indonesia, starting with a HCMC – Denpasar flight in March followed by a HCMC – Jakarta flight, before the end of this year. “We’ll start flying to Denpasar, Bali on March 2019. For the first six months, we’ll open four flights per week, and then we’ll continue to open daily flights,” Vietjet Air’s managing director Do Xuan Quang said Sunday, in a press release issued on Sunday by Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism, as picked up   by Detik.

The Indonesian government has given their permission for the Vietnamese low-cost carrier to operate in the country, as long as they leave their bikinis at home. “I gave a requirement for them not to wear bikinis, because it’s considered as inappropriate in Indonesia,” Minister of Transportation Budi Karya Sumadi said Monday, as quoted by Detik. Since Vietjet Air launched in 2011, the company has only occasionally had their stewardesses don their trademark red bikinis for special events, such as on inaugural flights to beach destinations and on their company calendars. The airline had been reprimanded by the Vietnamese government for the promotional stunts. That said, those PR stunts have undoubtedly proved fruitful for the low cost carrier, which accounted for more than 40 percent of Vietnam’s domestic market share as of last year and has already made its CEO, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, the first female billionaire in the country. [Coconuts Bali January 22, 2019]