Terrorism, counterterrorism activities grab headlines . . .
There has been a renewed emphasis on terrorism and counterterrorism in Southeast Asia, even as COVID-19 continues to spread. Singapore recently detained two youth who allegedly planned to attack places of worship, one of whom was believed to be inspired by far-right Christian extremism. Following a high-profile ban on a controversial religious group late last year, the Indonesian government will create a community policing program to train and incentivize the public to monitor and report individuals who may engage in “acts of violent extremism and terrorism.” And in the Philippines, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments about a controversial anti-terror law, which the government says is necessary to defeat communist insurgencies in the country’s south.
Strengthening measures and new pandemic challenges . . .
Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines have dramatically increased their counter-terrorism efforts, including working collaboratively, in the past five years. Measures include public awareness campaigns in Singapore and controversial anti-terror laws in Indonesia and the Philippines in response to concerns over Islamic State returnees, mostly from the Middle East. Indonesia has been praised for its innovative deradicalization programs for detained extremists and their children, although their effectiveness has been questioned. Since the pandemic, counterterrorism officials and experts have noticed a decline in terrorist planning, though measures continue to mount in fear of a possible uptick in extremist activity after the pandemic ends.
Critics fear erosion of rights . . .
Human rights groups and critics have argued that, just like the COVID-19 pandemic, counterterrorism has been used as a cover for authoritarian oppression and curtailing civil liberties. Indonesian groups have raised the alarm about the new community policing initiative, arguing that vague definitions of “extremism” and the involvement of ordinary citizens and the military can lead to legalized repression of minorities and the erosion of civil society. In the Philippines, universities with student populations critical of the anti-terror law are on edge after the government reversed earlier pledges not to use the police and military on campuses.
- Channel NewsAsia: Some places of worship could see stepped up security, including use of ‘discreet’ guards
- The Diplomat: Battle over anti-terror law opens at the Philippines’ top court
- The Jakarta Post: New anti-terror policy sparks fears of witch hunt