JAKARTA, Indonesia – President Megawati Sukarnoputri won crucial parliamentary backing Thursday for an emergency anti-terrorism decree in response to intense international pressure to crack down in the wake of the Bali nightclub bombings.
The decree has not been disclosed, but it was expected to make it easier for authorities to arrest and hold suspects and suspend some human rights protections in cases involving terrorism.
Those protections were written into law after the overthrow in 1998 of President Suharto, whose brutal 32-year dictatorship saw hundreds of thousands of people sent off to prison camps for long periods without trial.
Megawati met Parliamentary Speaker Akbar Tandjung for one hour to discuss the decree, which is based on legislation that has been stalled in Parliament for months over fears that it could give the security forces too much power.
"The Parliament gives its full support to the government to issue the anti-terrorism government regulation," Tandjung told a news conference. "The legal basis right now is not adequate."
Backing from parliamentary leaders was considered necessary to give Megawati the political room to issue the decree, which could put her on a collision course with Islamic extremists who are being widely blamed for the bombings.
Megawati said that she will hold a meeting Friday — it wasn't clear exactly with whom but probably with key security official — and that the decree could be issued afterward.
Issuing the decree "will certainly depend on the result" of the meeting, Megawati said.
The final version of the decree has not been released, but recent drafts show that the evidence rules needed to arrest a suspect would be relaxed and that intelligence reports could be sufficient.
The suspect can be detained for three days, according to the draft. The intelligence report would be read in open court during that time to allow a judge to decide whether the report can be used as a basis for arrest and further investigation.
Terror is defined as committing or threatening violence to affect state policy or to endanger the lives of people and property and create an atmosphere of terror or fear.
The decree could make it easier to take into custody an extremist Islamic cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, an Al Qaeda-linked group accused of plotting terrorism in Southeast Asia.
Suspicion that the Bali bombings were carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaeda arose immediately after the Saturday night attack. Bashir denies involvement, but Indonesian government officials have increasingly suggested there may be an Al Qaeda link in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.
Indonesian authorities have been under pressure from foreign countries for months to arrest Bashir, but said they lacked evidence. Underlying the reluctance are fears that arresting him could provoke an extremist backlash.
Human rights activists fear that the definition of terrorism is unclear and the security forces — which remain extremely powerful in Indonesia — would abuse the new powers.