JAKARTA - Indonesia’s top court on Monday upheld a 15-year jail term against Islamist militant Abu Bakar Bashir for terrorist acts, reversing an earlier decision to slash the sentence to nine years.
In June last year a lower court sentenced him to 15 years in jail, but upon appeal the High Court slashed it to nine, citing lack of evidence and old age.
“Abu Bakar Bashir is proven to be guilty officially and convincingly of committing terrorist acts,” the Supreme Court said in its ruling, which is final.
Bashir, who is behind bars, was the alleged founder and chief ideologue of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group, responsible for a string of attacks including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists.
The fiery but frail preacher accuses the United States, its allies and Jews everywhere of terrorism against Islam — and says waging war against them is every Muslim’s duty.
When given the 15-year jail sentence last year, true to form Bashir rejected the verdict, demonstrating to his fanatical supporters that he believes the rule of law as enshrined in the country’s secular, democratic constitution does not apply to him.
“This is haram (forbidden in Islam). I reject this because it is cruel and disregards Islamic sharia. This ruling is by the friends of the devil and it is haram for me to accept it,” he told the judge.
Andi Widjajanto, an analyst at the University of Indonesia, said that Islamic militants were still active in Indonesia, despite the arrest of Bashir and others.
“Nothing much has changed. They have just changed their tactics,” he said.
Umar Patek, a JI member who was arrested in the same Pakistani town where US commandos later killed Osama bin Laden and who is accused of making the bombs for the 2002 Bali attacks, is also on trial on terrorism charges.
But Farihin, another JI member who like many Indonesians goes by a single name and who has done two jail stints for Islamic militancy, told AFP that group leaders had gone underground since the Bali attacks.
“They are still there, and we are also ready for any orders at any time,” he said.
Critics say Indonesia’s justice system is unable to competently and fairly deal with terror charges.
“Indonesia’s legal system is the weakest link in the effort to curb terrorism,” political analyst Noor Huda Ismail said.
“All judges do not yet know how to conduct a terrorism trial. Because they are not specialised in terrorism they do not comprehend it is crucial to understand the exact role of every terrorist suspect under trial.”
The United States last week officially labelled the Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT), founded by Bashir in 2008, a foreign terrorist organisation, linking it to several attacks in Indonesia.
The State Department accuses JAT of being behind a church bombing in Java last September, deadly attacks on Indonesian policemen and bank robberies aimed at raising money for weapons and bomb materials.
In response, Bashir said in a statement: “This is simply an effort by the United States to influence the judges in the Supreme Court to keep on detaining me.”