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Indonesian Court Reduces Radical Islamic Cleric's Sentence


Indonesian radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir speaks to journalists from a holding cell at the Jakarta court. (File)

Indonesian radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir speaks to journalists from a holding cell at the Jakarta court. (File)

An Indonesian appeals court Wednesday announced it cut the prison sentence of radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir from 15 years to nine years. Some legal analysts say they are baffled by the court ruling.

The man known as the spiritual leader of Al Qaeda-linked militants in Southeast Asia was convicted in June of terrorist activities in connection with setting up and financing a militant training camp and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Abu Bakar Bashir was assisting militant groups involved in the planning of attacks on foreigners and the assassinations of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other leaders.

Criminal lawyer Frans Winarta is a member of the National Law Commission of Indonesia and chairman of Peradi, the oldest lawyer association in the country. He says he sees no legal basis for reducing the sentence of a convicted terrorist like Bashir, who continues to be been unrepentant of his actions.

“As far as I know from my more than 30 year practice, a defendant can only get a lighter sentence from a higher court if he shows some remorse. That's number one," Winarta explained. "Secondly, if he shows some good behavior during the hearing and during the sentence in prison.”

Security analyst Ken Conboy with Risk Management Advisory Indonesia says, without an explanation from the court, he can only surmise the reason for the sentence reduction.

“If you look at some of the people who were convicted of involvement in that training camp, they were getting sentences in the same, you know, eight, nine year range. So I would imagine they were bringing it down, his initial sentence down, to the range of the other convictions,” Conboy said.

Conboy says it is not uncommon in Indonesia to see prison sentences changed by a higher court and sometimes reinstated by the supreme court. Bashir himself has been on trial three times in the past three decades. He was found guilty of conspiracy for the 2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people, but the supreme court overturned his conviction and he was released from his sentence two-and-half years early.

Conboy says it is frustrating to see the gains made by law enforcement agencies to apprehend terrorists and dismantle radical organizations only to have prosecutors and courts give lenient sentences.

“The police get high marks for leading the effort to track down the terror suspects. They then bring them to court and then it sort of falls apart with the prosecutors,” he stated.

The Indonesian judicial process can be long and complicated and, in Bashir's case, the appeals court ruling is not the final verdict. Winarta says the Indonesian Supreme Court will certainly review the case and he hopes whatever decision it makes will be accompanied by a supporting legal opinion.

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