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Indonesia Sentences Radical Cleric on Treason Charges - 2003-09-02

A court in Jakarta has convicted radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir on immigration and treason charges, and sentenced to him to four years in prison. But the judges ruled that Mr. Bashir is not the leader of a terrorist group accused of trying to overthrow the Indonesian government.

In response to the verdict, Abu Bakar Bashir said his fight to impose Islamic law in Indonesia does not make him guilty of treason.

Bashir said he rejects the court's ruling and he will appeal. He also calls for hundreds of his supporters who gathered at the court to remain calm.

The four-year sentence falls far short of the 15 years prosecutors had sought. The judges ruled that the prosecutors had not proved that Bashir was spiritual chief of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terror group linked to al-Qaida.

Prosecutors had charged that Bashir tried to overthrow the Indonesian government by participating in the bombing of several churches on Christmas Eve 2000, and in a foiled plot to kill President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The judges acquitted Bashir in the assassination plot, but their ruling made no link to the church bombings. Nineteen people died in those blasts.

He also was convicted of violating immigration procedures on trips between Indonesia and Malaysia. The offenses relate to the years Bashir spent in Malaysia, where he fled in 1985 to escape the repressive rule of the Indonesia's former Suharto government.

Police say Jemaah Islamiyah carried out last year's bombing of two Bali nightclubs, which killed 202 people. Authorities are also investigating whether Jemaah Islamiyah is behind the August 5 bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta, which killed 12.

Bashir has not been charged in connection with either of those attacks. The 65-year-old cleric has maintained he has nothing to do with terrorism, and that until legal proceedings began against him had never heard of Jemaah Islamiyah. But he has been an outspoken critic of the United States and its efforts to combat terrorism.

Bashir has also accused the United States of carrying out the Bali bombing, as a pretext for oppressing Muslims.

Analysts say that fears the trial would win Bashir a larger following were unfounded. "Contrary to the expectation that Mr. Bashir after the trial could be a hero for the people, for the Muslims, it is totally the opposite," said Ulil Abshar Abdullah of the Liberal Islam Network, a moderate Islamic organization in Jakarta. "Mr. Bashir is not regarded as a hero, and I think nobody cares about him now. I think most of the Muslims look at him with contempt."

Some 1,300 police were on-hand to maintain security at the court. Local media had earlier reported that up to 1,000 of Bashir's supporters would be in the capital for the verdict, but just a few hundred turned out.