Indonesia prisons risk damaging terror fight-report

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JAKARTA, Nov 20 (Reuters) The chaotic state of Indonesia's prisons risks undermining attempts to persuade Islamic militants to reform and blunting so-called ''de-radicalisation'' programmes, a report by the International Crisis Group said.

The report said corrupt, vice-ridden prisons risked fanning militant activity.

Jakarta has won praise for persuading some members of groups such as Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a regional network blamed for a string of deadly attacks including the 2002 Bali bombings, to abandon violence and cooperate.

''Even as police are focusing their de-radicalisation programmes on prisoners and ex-prisoners, they are the first to acknowledge that the current state of Indonesian prisons undermines their efforts,'' the report said.

Under such programmes, authorities often try to befriend militants and help them, or their families, financially.

Scholars or former militants might also be used to give religious arguments against attacks.

The report notes such methods have often been controversial.

''There has been almost no public discussion about where the appropriate balance should be between leniency toward perpetrators, in an effort to prevent future attacks, and justice for victims,'' it said, urging closer scrutiny.

''Ultimately, the police initiative is aimed at using ex-prisoners as a vanguard for a change within their own communities after their release but the task is made infinitely harder by a lax prison regime,'' it said.

But it added that ordinary criminals and wardens could also be recruited to the cause of hardcore ideologues.

Indonesian prisons have previously come under fire after a man on death row for the 2002 Bali bombings gained access to a mobile telephone and a laptop, allowing him to connect to the Internet and communicate with fellow militants on the run.

''Unless prison corruption is tackled, jihadis, like narcotics offenders, murderers and big-time corruptors, will be able to communicate with anyone they want and get around any regulation designed to restrict their influence over other inmates.'' Indonesia has 170 men imprisoned for involvement in jihadi crimes, while about 150 men and one woman have been released since 1999 after serving time in jail, the report said.

It said authorities were beginning to address the problems, but called for better training of prison staff, donors to be encouraged to fund reforms, as well as improved co-ordination between correction officials, the courts and the police.

Most Indonesian Muslims are moderate, but there has been an increasingly vocal radical element in recent years, with small, violent groups staging a series of bomb attacks against Western and other targets since the start of the decade.

In a series of raids earlier this year, police say they netted the leaders of JI and its military wing, but while there has been no major bomb attack since 2005, police say Indonesia still faces a considerable threat from Islamic militants.

REUTERS DKS RN0511

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