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Bashir Trial Set to Begin in Jakarta - 2003-04-22

Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged leader of a Southeast Asia terrorist organization, goes on trial Wednesday for treason.

Indonesian Lawyer Mahendradatta, representing Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, says he doubts that his client will get a fair trial because his case has become politicized. "There are so many loopholes in front of the indictment," he says. "But I don't think that the judge will throw out the indictment. Why? Because the political pressure is more stronger - stronger than the law."

Mr. Mahendradatta says some of that pressure comes from foreign countries - which have labeled Mr. Bashir a terrorist. The rest he says comes from Indonesian officials who want to weaken the political standing of extreme Islamic leaders.

Abu Bakar Bashir was arrested days after the bomb attack on the island of Bali last October. More than 200 people died, many foreign tourists. Police say Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a militant network that seeks to create an Islamic state across Southeast Asia - was responsible.

Washington and regional governments have classified JI as a terrorist group with links to al-Qaida, and that cleric Bashir is the group's leader. But Mr. Bashir was not charged in connection with the Bali bombing.

Instead he faces life in prison on treason charges. A 25 page indictment filed by prosecutors earlier this month alleges that Mr. Bashir - the spiritual leader of JI - and was involved in the December 2000 church bombings which killed 19 people. He is also charged in connection to a failed plot to bomb Western interests in Singapore.

After his arrest, authorities had said Mr. Bashir had planned to assassinate Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri - but he has not been indicted for that plot.

Mr. Bashir has consistently denied having anything to do with terrorism.

It is not the first time Mr. Bashir has been accused of trying to overthrow the Indonesian government. He spent 16 years living in Malaysia, after fleeing arrest by the government of Indonesia's former president Suharto - which also accused him of trying to form an Islamic state.

Attorney Mahendradatta says the defense may petition the judge for more time to prepare Mr. Bashir's case. But he says since authorities refused to release Mr. Bashir on bail, lawyers only had one hour of privacy to discuss the case with their client.