Thu, 26 Jun 2003

Mukhlas refuses to testify against Samudra

Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

Prosecutors in the trial of the alleged mastermind of the Bali bombing, Imam Samudra, lost a chance of securing more incriminating evidence on Wednesday after witness Ali Gufron alias Mukhlas refused to testify against the defendant.

Mukhlas, who marked his entry to the court room with an exchange of yells praising God with the defendant, flatly rejected presiding judge I Nyoman Sugawa's request for him to take an oath, the normal process for a witness before giving testimony.

While the judge and Mukhlas were debating the procedure, the defendant's chief lawyer Qadhar Faisal intervened, defending the witness's arguments. Qadhar said that according to Article 168 of the Criminal Code, Mukhlas was under no legal obligation to take an oath nor to testify.

Article 168 states that any person who is a blood relation of the defendant or is being prosecuted in the same case as the defendant, has the legal right not to testify against the defendant.

Mukhlas is also standing trial for his alleged role in last October's bomb attack on Bali, which left 202 people dead, mostly foreign tourists.

Like Samudra, Mukhlas is being charged with planning and organizing the bombings, a crime that carries the death penalty under the new antiterrorism law.

A legal battle ensued that, curiously, pitted the lawyers against the judges, instead of against the prosecutors. Judge Sugawa countered the lawyers' move by citing the Supreme Court's decision dated March 21, 1990, to admit exceptions to Article 168.

However, the lawyers, quoting Supreme Court Practice Direction No. 1174/1994, insisted on keeping Mukhlas from testifying.

"We reject the lawyers' objections. Therefore, the witness is instructed to take the oath and present his testimony," Sugawa said.

Mukhlas was adamant, and when Sugawa repeated his order, the witness simply shook his head and said "No!".

Previously, Mukhlas had also refused to testify against his younger brother, Amrozi. Mukhlas was among eight witnesses summoned to the trial on Wednesday.

Chief prosecutor I Nyoman Dila later intervened, asking the judges to admit Mukhlas' police interrogation file as evidence in place of oral testimony.

The judges accepted the prosecution suggestion and asked Dila to read the summary of the file before the court.

In the file, Mukhlas admitted that the idea to carry out the bombings came from Samudra. The defendant also ordered Amrozi to purchase explosives, Mukhlas to provide the funds and appointed himself the field coordinator for the bomb attacks.

Earlier in the day, the lead prosecutor in the Mukhlas trial, Banjar Nahor, demanded that the trial continue despite the defendant's attempt to retract the statement he had given to police.

Claiming that he had been under severe physical and psychological duress during the interrogation, Mukhlas retracted his statement in Monday's session.

Referring to the alleged duress, Banjar Nahor stated that as it took place in an area outside the Bali Police headquarters so it could not considered to have taken place as part of the formal investigation.

"The defendant was always accompanied by his lawyers during the interrogation, so the file was compiled in a way that was in accordance with the law," Nahor told the court.

The court will present its ruling on the matter next Monday.