On February 8 the court in Jakarta reconvened, as scheduled, in the case against Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Baasyir, for his alleged engagement in terrorism related acts. This is the second time the 66-year old Baasyir has been put on trial, having been cleared in 2003 of charges of leading the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror group. The latest hearing, began last October, pursued the case of inciting followers to stage attacks in Bali in 2002 and against the Jakarta Marriott hotel in 2003. But, as reported by the Jakarta Post, the prosecution has conceded that there was insufficient evidence to back up the primary charge of involvement in planning acts of terror. They will probably settle for a jail sentence of up to eight years (www.thejakartapost.com).
The outcome of the case will have international implications. Foreign governments are keen for a conviction as a litmus test of President Yudhoyono’s commitment to tackling extremism in Indonesia. However, if Baasyir is convicted, security authorities will be bracing themselves for a renewed wave of violence. Prosecution, it has to be said, will have only symbolic influence, given the length of the trial. What will remain, however, is a conviction, promoted by JI, of undue Western interference in Indonesia, which will bolster support for radicalism in the country. The Jakarta Post’s report on February 15 of a machine gun attack on a karaoke bar in Ambon frequented by Westerners, demonstrates that the climate already exists.