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Constitutional Court Overturns Indonesia's Anti-Terror Law - 2004-07-23

Indonesia's constitutional court has overturned the country's tough anti-terror law. Friday's decision casts doubt on recent convictions, in particular those involving the deadly bomb attack on the island of Bali in 2002.

In a five to four majority decision, the judges ruled that Indonesia's anti-terror law is unconstitutional.

The decision could affect the convictions of more than 30 alleged terrorists, including the men convicted of killing more than 200 people in the Bali nightclub bombing of 2002.

A tough anti-terror law was passed after the Bali attack and the constitutional court judges ruled that it was illegal to apply that law retroactively to those accused of the bombing.

A court official said Friday's decision would not overturn the Bali bombing convictions. But, lawyers representing many of the Bali attackers say the ruling will now allow them to appeal.

Shortly after the verdict was handed down, the leader of the legal defense team, Wirawan Adnan, said he believes that police will now have to either re-charge his clients under normal criminal law or release them within 30 days.

"In general because we believe that retroactivity is now officially not allowed in our country so we will head our legal actions towards that area. We believe that because of today's verdicts the situations will be changed," he explained.

Few believe that the men convicted of involvement in the Bali bombing will walk free any time soon. If their convictions are overturned on appeal, it is likely the police will immediately re-arrest them and charge them under criminal laws, for murder, assisting fugitives and conspiracy.

It will be for another court to decide if the decision also affects cases of other convictions involving terrorist attacks committed after the law was passed. This would include the car bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in August last year.

Legal experts say Friday's decision will have serious consequences. They say the anti-terror law required a lower burden of proof to convict. It also raises questions as to whether suspects can be tried twice for the same crime if their first trial is declared void.