A court in Indonesia has halved
the sentence of a Muslim cleric who has been accused of leading the regional
terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.
Abu Bakar Bashir has been serving a three-year sentence for immigration violations,
but the Supreme Court Tuesday cut his sentence to 18 months. Bashir was arrested
in October 2002, and with time served, is expected to be released later this
Although Bashir has been accused of leading Jemaah Islamiyah, he has never
been charged with terrorist offenses. He denies that he has played any role
in the terrorist actions Jemaah Islamyah is accused of carrying out, including
the 2002 Bali bombing, which killed more than 200 people.
He was originally convicted and sentenced to four years in jail on charges
of undermining the state and immigration violations. All but the immigration
charges were cleared in the first round of his appeal, when his sentence was
also reduced to three years.
Bashir's early release is sure to stir controversy and raise questions over
Indonesia's commitment to fighting terrorism, but the country has otherwise
established a strong record.
Three of the Bali bombers have been sentenced to death, and more than 25
others are serving long prison terms. Indonesia has come in for widespread
criticism for what some people consider a lenient sentence for Bashir, but
observers say the fault lay in a weak prosecution case.
One of Bashir's lawyers, Mahendradatta, says that despite the sentence cut,
he believes that the sentence is too harsh for an immigration violation. The
defense team will seek a judicial review of the sentence. "The lawyers will
keep on fighting because we are sure that there is no grounds to give sentence
to Abu Bakar Bashir," he says.
Bashir is the founder and principal of an Islamic boarding school on the
Indonesian island of Java. At least five of the main players in the Bali bombing
were graduates of Bashir's Al-Mukmin school.
Other graduates were involved in last year's bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel
in Jakarta, in which 12 people died. Despite calls for the school to be shut
down, the government has declined to take any action.
Jemaah Islamiyah says it is fighting to establish an Islamic state in Southeast
Asia. Many of the group's members have ties to the al Qaida terror network.