Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Indonesia: Mobilizing Civilian Militias for National Defense

-- implications for security in the Papuan provinces

On the afternoon of Thursday 26 September, with only 73 of 283 members of parliament in the House, the Indonesian parliament passed a profoundly controversial Bill.

Indonesian parliament passes PSDN Bill, 26 Sept 2019

Agus Hermanto, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, chaired the session.

When he asked, “Can the second level discussion of decision making on the Draft Bill on Management of National Resources (PSDN) for National Defense be approved as a law?” all members present said, “Agree.”

With that, and a clap of the hammer, the Bill on Management of National Resources (PSDN) for National Defense officially became law.

The PSDN Bill 2019 on National Defense contains several controversial articles. However, the one that will trigger alarm bells for Christians is Chapter 4, Article 27 which makes it legal for the Indonesian military (TNI) to mobilise civilian forces for national defense.

[NOTE: I apologise from the outset that all the news reports referenced in this post are Indonesian language news reports. It seems this news is not being reported in English! My English translations come courtesy of Google Translate, albeit with some tweaking.]

The full text of the law on
Management of National Resources (PSDN) for National Defense
can be found here: PSDN Bill 2019 – full text, in Indonesian, pdf.

Article 1 provides some essential definitions.

In this Act we mean:

1. National Defense is all efforts to maintain state sovereignty, territory of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, and the safety of the nation from threats and interference towards the integrity of the nation and state.

2. National Resources are human resources, natural resources, and artificial resources.

6. The Main Component is the Indonesian National Army [TNI] that is already used to carry out defense duties.

7. The Reserve Component is a National Resource that has been prepared to be mobilized through mobilization to enlarge and strengthen the strength and capabilities of the Main Components.

8. Supporting Components are National Resources that can be used to increase the strength and ability of the Main Component and Reserve Component.

10. Mobilization is an act of mobilization and uses, simultaneously, National Resources and Facilities and Infrastructure that have been prepared and fostered as components to strengthen the National Defense. [Resources are] to be used appropriately, integrated, and directed for overcoming every threat – both threats from abroad as well as threats to national unity and the survival of the Unified State of Republic of Indonesia [NKRI].

Chapter 4, Article 27 [BAB IV, Pasal 27]

(1) The Proposed Components include:
a. Citizens;
b. Natural Resources;
c. Artificial Resources; and
d. National Utilities and Infrastructure.

(2) The Proposed Components as referred to in paragraph (1) may be utilized in the service of National Defense.

(3) The Proposed Components as referred to in paragraph (1) may be utilized to assist with internal, State Defense efforts.


For most Indonesians, the most controversial element of this article was the prospect that citizens would be conscripted into a Reserve Component. Controversy raged about whether the government was introducing compulsory military service or whether this law would result in the militarization of civil society.

In response, the Chairman of the Working Committee on the PSDN Bill for National Defense, Satya Widya Yudha, assured the public that, “Conscription for civil society is voluntary. This is clear, there is no coercion in the PSDN Act.

Chairman of the House of Representatives Commission, Abdul Kharis Almasyhari, also confirmed that citizen participation in Support Components and Reserve Components would be voluntary, adding that the law was made to strengthen Indonesia’s national defense, not to force citizens into military service. According to Abdul Kharis, precisely because the TNI and Polri (police) cannot be everywhere at once, they should not be expected to carry the whole burden of security. Now, with this regulation, community mobilization – if it is needed – will be legal.


While these assurances might comfort most Indonesian citizens, Christians with memories of the violence in East Timor and the jihad in the Maluku Islands -- especially those in the Papuan provinces -- will be deeply alarmed.

Islamic jihadi and merah putih (red and white, ultra nationalist) militias have long served as proxies for the TNI which is known to arm militias and then turn a blind eye to their violence. By using the militias as proxies, the TNI has been able to maintain plausible deniability of gross human rights abuses. And deniability is essential if the TNI is to continue receiving weapons and training from the West.

Now however, with the passing of the PSDN Bill, the TNI will be able to mobilize civilian militias which will now be known now as Reserve Components. These militias/Reserve Components will now fight alongside and cooperate with the TNI for the purpose of “national defense” as defined by the Bill. Of course, they will be fighting not predominantly Christian (infidel) indigenous Papuans (“monkeys”) but “separatists”! And what could be more Islamic than defending the unity of Indonesia? For as far as Islam is concerned, Indonesia – including the Papuan provinces – is all part of the dar al-Islam (House of Islam).


Since the 23 September riots in Wamena – in which at least 27 Muslim settlers died at the hands of invading marauding highlanders – several Java-based jihadist groups have begun calling for jihad. [For background see: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 523 (9 Oct 2019).]

Islam Jihad Front (FJI) and Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have both begun raising funds and enlisting recruits for jihad in the Papuan provinces.

recruiting for Papua jihad

A banner at an FJI recruitment post reads: “Islamic Jihad Front opens registration for Islamic paramilitary groups throughout Indonesia to send Islamic holy war fighters/militias [jihad qital] to Wamena, Papua, to defend Muslim brothers in Papua who were slaughtered by the waring infidels [kafir harby] and to maintain the integrity of the NKRI [Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia] from the OPM [Organisasi Papua Merdeka / Free Papua Movement] separatist hordes.”

According to Indonesian human rights researcher Andreas Harsono (7 Oct), several “aggressive”, Islamist groups already have a foothold in the Papuan provinces. “We have one in Sorong; we are also seeing Laskar Jihad, a militant Muslim group, setting up a base in Keerom; also in Wamena . . .”

Further to this, previously, on 5 September, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu informed members of the House of Representatives, “There is a group affiliated with the Islamic State [operating] in Papua that has called for a jihad there.” National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo confirmed Ryamizard’s statement and identified the IS-affiliated group as Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) – the group believed to be responsible for a string of terror attacks in and around Surabya, including suicide-bombings at three churches on Sunday 13 May 2018.

The PSDN Bill 2019 for National Defense changes the dynamic of the Papuan conflict dramatically. It seems the TNI, which is heavily invested in the Papuan provinces, will have no shortage of volunteers willing to serve in a Reserve Component.

As one observer ominously warns, “The possibility that all this could turn into a widespread, government supported ethnic cleansing in the guise of a religious war is now very real.”


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com