Fri, 05 Sep 2003

'Verdict saves government credibility amid pressure'

National and international reaction to the four-year prison term given to Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir has poured in. Ba'asyir was found guilty of subversion, counterfeiting documents and immigration violations, but cleared on charges that he led regional terror network Jamaah Islamiyah (JI). The Jakarta Post asked several people for their take on the issue.

Gareng, not his real name, 32, works at an international organization in Kuningan, South Jakarta. He lives in Setiabudi, South Jakarta:

I think the verdict is a win-win solution for both the government and the defendant.

The government, at least, managed to save its credibility in the face of international pressure, while the verdict might minimize the reaction from Ba'asyir's supporters.

I guess the whole trial had a political motive. The ruling party did not want to lose public sympathy at the grassroots level by handing out a harsh punishment.

However, I assume that the Ba'asyir case will, in a way, increase the risks of terrorist strikes. The terrorists might be under the impression it is hard for the courts to find evidence against them and sentence them.

Modi, not his real name, 34, is a local religious leader who lives in Pulomas, East Jakarta:

I think the court faced a dilemma in dealing with the reaction from Ba'asyir's supporters and the Muslim majority in the country.

Even top officials showed their support for the defendant. I think the government was too afraid to be objective in this case.

Many witnesses, including terrorist suspects, said Ba'asyir was an important figure. It was irrational for the defendant to blame the U.S. without any proof.

Personally, I regret that the defendant received such a lenient sentence.

We can't deny that the courts here always side with the majority and the rich. It will take a century to truly enforce the law in this country.

Wawan Kurniawan, 27, is a teacher at a private high school in South Jakarta. He lives in Rawamangun, East Jakarta, with his family:

I thought there was something strange about Ba'asyir's trial. There were many inconsistencies in the charges against the defendant.

If the panel of judges had found him guilty of being a terrorist leader, I would object to the sentence, which would have been too lenient.

But since he was found guilty of only the secondary charges, I think the sentence is fair.

However, I think the verdict was ambiguous and could confuse the public. The court only reached its verdict because of external pressure.

Courts cannot charge people with "allegations". They must deal with evidence and never politicize trials.

I think the court system is not much different from the system under the New Order regime, when top officials intervened in the court.

-- Leo Wahyudi S.