The women behind deradicalization process in Indonesian prisons deserve recognition for their important work. Credit: Windi Setyawan/Unsplash.
The women behind deradicalization process in Indonesian prisons deserve recognition for their important work. Credit: Windi Setyawan/Unsplash.

Introduction

Women have been involved in the rehabilitation of terrorist inmates for years in Indonesia. This piece will zoom in on the profile of four such women, whose missions are to the break the chains of extremism and guide ex-inmates back into a normal life.

Nurani Ruhendi

In the heart of Nusakambangan Island’s Super Maximum Security Prison, Nurani Ruhendi, a 31 year old deradicalization activist, recently completed a challenging assignment.

Tasked with the responsibility of guiding inmates through an intricate process of rehabilitation, Nurani, fondly known as Rani, does not complain about her challenging duty. On the contrary, she expresses satisfaction and joy when recounting her experiences.

The term “inmates” in this piece refers specifically to those jailed for terrorism acts.

For Rani, interacting with inmates is not merely a routine task, but a mood booster. Rani is entrusted with the unique responsibility of visiting and mentoring these inmates within the prison walls.

When Rani first assumed this role at the age of 26, she realized that this was not ordinary mentoring. She actively engages in the deradicalization process inside the prison, beginning as early as the inmates’ arrival to the Nusakambangan facility after sentencing.

Rani oversees and mentors around 50 terrorism inmates across 11 correctional facilities in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Central Java, out of a total of 104 facilities in 25 Provinces. Despite the challenges, Rani embraces her responsibilities with enthusiasm, easily overcoming any fatigue.

Terrorism inmates are often reserved initially, resisting engagement with prison staff, including Rani and her team. To these inmates, the staff is perceived as the extension of the Indonesian government, which is considered as thaghut in radical Islamist worldview.

Deradicalization is indeed a lengthy process. Rejection from inmates must be handled delicately, processed with a heart-to-heart approach, in an attempt to convince them that they do need help.

“When there is a former inmate who was once resistant, and we guide them slowly until they firmly pledge allegiance to the Republic of Indonesia, commit and express gratitude for the facilitated mindset shift, it feels incredibly rewarding as if all of our hard work has paid off,” said Rani.

Natalia Aga

Natalia Aga, a 32-year-old with a background in psychology, shares a similar commitment with Rani. Her role involves providing guidance to inmates while they are still inside prisons. Understanding their needs is key to Natalia’s mission to win their hearts and minds.

Inmates often harbor certain unfavorable views towards women, a challenge that Natalia acknowledges. Establishing personal connections is vital and it means giving extra effort due to communication limitations posed by different point of views.

Despite the demanding workload and the negative energy pervasive within the prison, Natalia and her colleagues strive to overcome these hurdles, viewing them as challenges to fulfilling their mission of providing guidance.

“Work rhythms are quite intense, we must be ready to go and meet with inmates at any moment. This prison cannot be described as having positive vibes—on the contrary, it exudes significant negative energy that affects our mood. But this becomes a challenge for us to overcome so that we can carry out our mission of providing guidance,” explains Natalia.

Aysha

In the heart of the prison system, where many work tirelessly to rehabilitate inmates within prison walls, Aysha stands apart. Her mission extends beyond confinement, as she is tasked to guide former inmates as they transition back into society. Aysha’s journey begins after these individuals pledge allegiance to the Republic of Indonesia, securing their parole.

Her responsibilities involve coordinating with various governmental bodies to ensure an inmate’s administrative and documentation requirements are in order, including proofs of their citizenship and identity. These are pre-requisite before an inmate could apply for parole.

She is also in charge of the reintegration process of former inmates. This includes reaching out to their families. This is a crucial step in the post-prison life as their successful reintegration into society hinges on the support they receive.

Aysha firmly believes that these individuals are victims of manipulation by terrorist group, succumbing to indoctrination that exploits religion as a tool. Many fell into the trap, willing to sacrifice themselves in acts of bombing, stabbing, shooting and other forms of violence. However, Aysha remains dedicated to helping them realize that the state is extending a helping hand to empower them once more.

Her altruistic intentions, however, face hurdles. Some parolees shut their doors, refusing assistance for various reasons. Others choose not to opt for parole, maintaining their radical stance. Even in the face of rejection, the government remains vigilant, keeping a watchful eye on these individuals.

Despite encountering resistance, Aysha is motivated to win over those shrouded in the fog of extremism. She views them not as irredeemable, but as human beings who have fallen victim to the indoctrination of extremist ideologies propagated by terrorist networks.

A touching incident in Central Java serves as a testament to Aysha’s determination. Initially resistant, an individual eventually opened up to dialogue and engagement.

In Aysha’s words, “There were several cases in Central Java, they initially resisted because they were still radicalized. That is okay, we should not force them. But we continued to approach them until they finally opened the door and talked to us, eventually participating in our activities.”

Aysha’s commitment sheds light on the complexity of post-terrorism inmates’ reintegration, demonstrating that compassion and persistence can gradually dismantle the walls built by extremist ideologies.

Dyah Ayu Kartika

Dyah Ayu Kartika, a terrorism researcher, underscores the pivotal role women play in the deradicalization process. Kartika emphasizes that, “Especially for female terrorist inmates, an initial approach by female officers proves instrumental. This strategy lays the groundwork before subsequent sessions where they engage with male facilitators.”

By prioritizing female engagement early in the deradicalization journey, it not only fosters a more empathetic connection but also sets the stage for more comprehensive sessions with diverse speakers. These subsequent sessions cover a spectrum of subjects, including religion, personality development and skills enhancement, many of which are conducted by male facilitators.

Kartika also emphasizes that there are currently no specific programs dedicated to female inmates. Consequently, they often resort to improvisation in various aspects, particularly in terms of support following their pledge of loyalty to the Republic of Indonesia.

“The declaration of loyalty to the state thus needs to be followed up by sustained and carefully planned programs,” Kartika adds in a paper, because resources to help female inmates are even scarcer than those available to men.

This approach not only recognizes the unique needs of female inmates, but also highlights the importance of a holistic and gender-sensitive methodology in the ongoing fight against terrorism. In their quiet battles, they redefine narratives, proving that within echoes of despair, the symphony of redemption prevails. National Counterterrorism Agency spokesperson, Prof. Dr. Irfan Idris, emphasizes crucial aspects relating to women’s role in counter-terrorism efforts. “Efforts by women to prevent radicalism are often overlooked, despite their visible and discreet contributions, particularly in areas susceptible to terrorism.”

Author

Kusumasari Ayuningtyas is a multilingual journalist based in Indonesia, covering sociocultural issues, politics, economy and the environment for The Jakarta Post. She has written on human rights, religion, extremism and terrorism for BenarNews and served as translator for German State-owned international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW). Beyond journalism, she has been involved as a field researcher in 2020 and as a Peace Village project officer for Wahid Foundation in 2021.

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