Tue, 24 Jun 2003

Terrorist suspect withdraws confessions

Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

The trial of Ali Gufron, alias Muklas, took a dramatic turn on Monday, when the defendant revoked all his previous confessions made to police investigators, claiming that he had been subjected to severe mental and physical torture during his interrogation.

"The torture was very brutal, uncivilized and inhumanly savage," Muklas screamed angrily before stunned judges.

Muklas alleged that through torture, police officers had forced him to confess that Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, a hardline Muslim cleric currently being tried in Jakarta on charges of treason, was the person who ordered, financed and gave his blessings to the Bali bombings.

He also said that police investigators had also forced him to say that Ba'asyir had asked him to plan an assassination attempt against President Megawati Soekarnoputri when she was vice president.

"All that information is false. Therefore, I retract all the information in my BAP (police interrogation file)," Muklas said.

Reading out his four-page defense, richly illustrated with spiritual quotations from the Koran, Muklas said that the torture started right after his arrest on Dec. 3, during the initial interrogation sessions in Central Java.

He said the darkest hours took place after he had spent about a month under custody of the Bali police. One night at around 9:00 p.m., Muklas claimed, a group of about 10 plainclothes officers took him out of his detention cell and took him to an unknown venue. There, they stripped him naked, made him lay down on the floor and repeatedly stomped on his body.

Raising his clenched fist high in the air, Muklas, apparently unable to control his emotion, recalled that moment in a horrified voice.

"In the name of Allah, I would rather be shot in the head several times than being stripped naked. As a Muslim who knows what dignity is and follows aurat, it was the most humiliating torture for me," he said in disgust.

Aurat is an Islamic law that decrees that certain parts of the body must be kept covered and hidden from the view of people outside of one's immediate family.

"During my entire life, only my wife and children have seen my bare thighs," he added.

He also alleged that the officers took pictures of his genitals. They ended the ordeal by taking Muklas into the bathroom and pouring near-boiling water over his head.

Muklas claimed that the physical pain of the torture lasted almost three weeks. To prevent his brothers Amrozi and Ali Imron from undergoing a similar ordeal, Muklas told them to follow the investigators' scenario.

"That's why their BAP might also contain false information," he said.

Amrozi and Alim Imron are also suspects in the deadly Bali bombing that killed over 200 people and injured some 350 others.

The police have arrested over 30 people as suspects in the terrorist attack, believed to be the biggest after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in September 2001.

Although he claimed that he remembered the names and faces of the torturers, Muklas refused to identify them. However, he stressed that none of the Bali police investigators, whom he praised as friendly and professional, were involved in the torture.

The trial is to resume on Wednesday.

Earlier in the morning, the presiding judges in Imam Samudra's trial examined eight witnesses, including Muslim leader Haji Agus Bambang Prayitno.

Separately, the trials of 12 other defendants known as the Solo Group and the Serang Group were held at five different locations in the Denpasar Public Court compound.