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Bashir Sentence Passed to Avoid Angering Radicals
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja – Straits Times Indonesia | June 18, 2011
The 15-year jail term handed to convicted terrorist Abu Bakar Bashir this week is sparking debate, with analysts suggesting it was kept light to avoid angering the radicals who revere him.
The prosecution had pushed for a life term for the 72-year-old.
But analyst Mardigu Wowiek Prasantyo, who helps the police interrogate terrorist suspects, said the lighter sentence was seen as having “the best outcome for society.”
Bashir was sentenced on Thursday for helping to plan and fund a militant training camp, where men learnt to use weapons to attack Indonesian government officials and foreigners. Police destroyed the camp in February last year.
While Bashir does not head any of the disparate radical cells responsible for recent attacks against religious minorities in Indonesia, fundamentalists see him as a spiritual leader.
Though the courts have charged individual perpetrators of violence, the government has shied away from clamping down on fundamentalist groups for fear of being portrayed as anti-Muslim.
They have not tried to disband radical groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, whose members have attacked moderate figures and members of the minority Ahmadiyah sect. Some experts fear Indonesia could become like Pakistan — a society struggling with intolerance, brewing terrorism and religious vigilantism.
Bashir, who looks frail but is healthy, has been jailed twice before - once for his complicity in the 2002 Bali bombings and once for the 2003 Marriott Hotel bomb attacks in Jakarta.
He has not openly condoned acts of terrorism but has said he supports paramilitary training as Muslims need to learn how to defend themselves.
This admission — along with testimony from men involved in the Aceh training camp — helped prosecutors to nail him during the four-month trial.
One of the prosecutors said on Thursday that judges had been too lenient. Bashir was proven to have incited people to commit acts of terrorism, a crime punishable by death, and to have supported the use of violence to inflict harm, which can bring life imprisonment.
“But the judges had to consider the wider feelings of society,” said the prosecutor, who did not want to be named.
“It seems they don’t just follow the law book exactly. They make decisions after taking into account all the relevant aspects.”
Analysts do agree on a few things though. One is that Bashir should be isolated while in prison so he cannot influence others.
On Friday, National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Ketut Untung Yoga Ana said Bashir was still in police custody in his own cell and would be moved to a prison only at a later date.
“The court will decide where to put Bashir,” Ketut said.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia.