Wed, 03 Sep 2003

Ba'asyir gets four years

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Central Jakarta District Court found Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir guilty of treason on Tuesday and sentenced him to four years in prison.

Prosecutors were seeking the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for Ba'asyir, who had also been charged with being the leader of regional terrorist network Jamaah Islamiyah (JI). This group has been blamed for the Bali bombings that killed 202 people and injured some 350 others, mostly foreigners, the JW Marriott Hotel attack on Aug. 5 and the 2000 Christmas Eve church bombings.

"Ba'asyir has been proven guilty of subversion with the aim of overthrowing the government," chief judge Muhammad Saleh said.

However, the judge was quick to add: "There is not enough evidence to prove that the defendant, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, was the leader and organizer of the subversion."

Ba'asyir had been charged with masterminding a plot to kill President Megawati Soekarnoputri when she was vice president, treason, document counterfeiting and immigration violations.

The judges also found Ba'asyir guilty of the last two charges.

The trial, which began on April 23, was seen as a test of the government's will to crack down on religious extremism. But the prosecution's case rested largely on the televised testimony of JI suspects detained in Malaysia and Singapore.

The relatively light sentence could result in a backlash from the United States and its allies, which have been eagerly waiting a long sentence for Ba'asyir.

"I cannot accept this and I will appeal," Ba'asyir said after the hearing.

A supporter then shouted "Allahu Akbar!" (God is great), prompting Ba'asyir again to urge his followers to remain calm.

"Be careful of provocateurs, be careful of America," he said, waving as he was led from the court.

The panel of judges said that while it could not be proven that Ba'asyir was the leader of JI, he "cannot be separated from the struggle of the JI under Abdullah Sungkar".

Prosecutors had charged that Ba'asyir and Sungkar co-founded JI in 1993 and that Ba'asyir took over as leader of the group when Sungkar died in 1999.

The judges said the "initial implementation of subversion had been proven by the existence of efforts by JI to set up an Islamic state".

They noted that JI has a handbook which stipulates the use of force for spreading Islam and for jihad (holy war).

The JI network, which is also linked to a bombing in the Philippines and bomb plots in Singapore and Thailand, wishes to create a regional Islamic state.

Indonesia's largest Islamic organization expressed fear on Tuesday night that militant groups would react angrily to the four-year jail sentence given to Ba'asyir.

"For sure they won't be satisfied," Solahuddin Wahid, vice chairman of the moderate Nahdlatul Ulama, told AFP.

Solahuddin urged the radicals to realize "there is no use" in struggling for Islam through violence.

"I don't know how far that hope will be heard by them," said Solahuddin, also a member of Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights.

He said that while he could not comment on the evidence against Ba'asyir, it was not fair the cleric was taken straight to jail while other prominent Indonesians convicted of crimes remained free while awaiting their appeals.

Chronology of Ba'asyir's Trial

Oct. 28, 2002 Ba'asyir arrested in Sukohardjo, Surakarta

April 23, 2003 Trial of Ba'asyir begins. Ba'asyir charged with treason, document

counterfeiting and immigration violations

Aug. 12, 2003 Prosecutors demand the Central Jakarta District

Court sentence Ba'asyir to 15 years in jail

for treason, falsifying documents

and immigration violations

Sept. 2, 2003 Ba'asyir sentenced to four years in jail