Fri, 05 Sep 2003

Verdict not end of story for Ba'asyir

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, who has been sentenced to four years in jail for treason, could yet face terrorism charges, provided that police obtain new evidence after they question Hambali, who is now in U.S. custody following his recent capture in Thailand.

National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar revealed on Thursday that there was still a possibility that Ba'asyir could be prosecuted on terror charges if the police found from their questioning of Hambali that the 65-year-old cleric was in fact the leader of the Jamaah Islamiyah terror group and had been involved in terrorist outrages.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri has called up U.S. President George W. Bush to give Indonesian police access to Hambali, who has been sequestered by the U.S following his capture in Thailand last month.

"If we can interrogate Hambali, then we may be able to further investigate Ba'asyir's involvement in terrorism," said the four- star general after attending a Cabinet meeting here on Thursday.

In a landmark trial on Tuesday, Ba'asyir was cleared of primary charges of involvement in terrorism and of leading JI, a shadowy terror group linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network, which has been blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in New York and Washington. JI has been linked to a series of terrorist attacks in Indonesia, including the Oct 12, 2002, Bali blasts that killed 202 people and the Aug. 5 JW Marriott Hotel blast that claimed at least 12 lives.

The court gave Ba'asyir only four years in jail, eleven years less than the prosecution had sought -- a sentence that has sparked criticism from many, both at home and overseas.

Western leaders, including Australian Prime Minister John Howard, expressed anger that Ba'asyir had been acquitted of the terrorism charges, saying that the verdict highlighted the problems that existed in the Indonesian legal system.

Despite the lenient sentence, a member of Ba'asyir's legal team, Wirawan Adnan, officially sought leave to appeal from the Central Jakarta District Court on Thursday.

Meanwhile, responding to the criticism of the court's verdict, the chairman of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, Hasyim Muzadi, called on all sides to respect the judgment.

He said he could understand why Western countries were disappointed with the lenient sentence given to Ba'asyir as they had long been suspicious about the Muslim cleric's activities.

Separately, Syafii Ma'arif, the chairman of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim group in Indonesia, regretted the verdict, saying that there were no strong legal reasons for the judges to have convicted the defendant.

He said the judges should accept the reality that the prosecutors' indictments were weak and, therefore, the High Court should accept the appeal.

Those who consider the sentence too lenient point to the fact that in respect of the treason charges laid against Ba'asyir, the Criminal Code provides for a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail, while for the offenses with which Ba'asyir was also charged, the maximum punishment is five years' imprisonment.

Despite increasing fears of terrorism around the world, Vice President Hamzah Haz warned Western countries, including the U.S., of political reasons being behind the terrorism waged by certain groups, saying that Indonesia was not anti-American but that Washington should try to build a just world and treat all nations equally.

He argued that all nations, including those that had Muslim majorities, opposed the use of terrorism, but that Western countries should also take care not to arbitrarily sideline Muslim nations.

The Vice President said Indonesia would continue to strengthen bilateral ties with Western countries, especially the U.S., in all fields.

"If we are anti-American, it means that we are not performing our duty as Muslims to show mercy in the world," he said during a meeting at his office.