Wed, 13 Aug 2003

Amrozi, damned and condemned

Justice under Indonesian law has been done. After a swift investigation and an open and fair trial, the first of the Bali bombers has been condemned to die by firing squad. That is a closure of sorts. But it is by no means the end of the Bali tragedy.

Amrozi's defiant pride in his role in the Bali deaths and his odious gloating over this week's Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta has provoked deep, unhappy emotions in Australians and Indonesians alike. At a personal level, there will be those who draw comfort from knowing that Amrozi, who learnt his fate yesterday, has been shown no mercy. Others, who oppose the death penalty under any circumstances, will see the sentence as a futile instrument of revenge which can offer no real solace to those who lost loved ones in Bali on Oct. 12 last year.

The court's decision has brought Amrozi -- and by legal precedent his co-accused -- one step closer to death. His sentence, however, is only one factor which will determine his fate. How swiftly Amrozi is now executed, or whether he is executed at all, is uncertain. This doubt is inextricably linked to the wider danger posed by radical Islam to the Indonesian state and to foreigners in that country.

Amrozi, who yesterday said he would appeal, had previously declared his enthusiasm for a "martyr's death". His execution will in no way deter those similarly prepared to commit, and to confess to, heinous crimes. The possibility that the Marriott Hotel blast was detonated by a suicide bomber -- and linked to the Jemaah Islamiah terrorists responsible for the Bali blasts -- reinforces this truth. JI has not been broken. It remains a potent threat. For operational reasons Amrozi may be more useful to investigators alive, in custody.

Indonesia rarely executes its citizens, even for the serious drug trafficking offenses which routinely attract the death penalty in other countries of South-East Asia. When it does so, the process is excruciatingly slow. The handful of prisoners executed since 1990 had spent up to 25 years in custody. There are presently serious political and security considerations which might encourage Jakarta to hold Amrozi on death row.

The recent rise of radical Islam in Indonesia followed decades of brutal political repression. Under the authoritarian regime of the former president, Soeharto, Islamic political parties were banned. But much popular resentment was quietly channeled into the mosques, where it festered. When Islamic political parties were legalized after Soeharto's fall in 1998, Muslim groups were emboldened to demand a greater role in the nation's affairs.

Democracy has since disappointed many Indonesians by failing to curb official corruption, combat poverty or improve the delivery of basic services. The Indonesian people have suffered greatly at the hands of terrorists, and deplore their actions. Radical Islam, however, continues to offer the determined few a dangerous vehicle for opposition. Amrozi's execution may go ahead. But the fear then must be that the martyr's death he craves may simply help rally more zealots to his bloody cause.

-- The Sydney Morning Herald