Militant cleric Bashir's final appeal

Abu Bakar Bashir, widely seen as the spiritual leader of JI, entering the courthouse in Cilacap, Central Java, yesterday.
Abu Bakar Bashir, widely seen as the spiritual leader of JI, entering the courthouse in Cilacap, Central Java, yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia's most influential militant cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, yesterday challenged his conviction in court that he had helped to fund a terrorist paramilitary training camp in Aceh, arguing that his 15-year jail sentence is legally baseless.

His lawyer Achmad Michdan argued that Bashir, the founder of regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiah (JI), raised money and intended to use it to help the Palestinians, and not to channel it to the Aceh camp that police raided in 2010.

The court date by Bashir, 76, is his final appeal in the case, more than four years after he was thrown in jail by the South Jakarta district court in June 2011. Bashir is widely seen as the spiritual leader of JI, which is blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

About 500 supporters staged rallies outside the courthouse in Cilacap, Central Java.

Police deployed about 1,200 personnel, according to Cilacap police chief Ulung Sampurna Jaya.

Under the Indonesian legal system, a district court's ruling can be appealed at a high court and then to the Supreme Court. The first appeal in the Supreme Court is called "kasasi", and the second appeal, or the final legal avenue, is called "peninjauan kembali" or civil review.

Bashir yesterday filed the civil review appeal challenging the first Supreme Court's appeal ruling in 2012 that raised the Jakarta court's nine-year jail sentence for the firebrand cleric to 15 years.

He appeared in court wearing a white turban and white robe, and told the packed courtroom that the judges should repent for acting against the Quran, Islam's holy book.

Mr Michdan said that to prove that Bashir's funds were misused, "we will present 'novum' to prove this", referring to data or testimonies that were not previously considered in making previous court rulings.

Mr Michdan took issue with the South Jakarta district court's decision in 2011 to allow witnesses to testify against Bashir through a video conference, which Mr Michdan said breached the court hearing procedures as stipulated by the law.

The Supreme Court's ruling in 2012 also breached the law, Mr Michdan argued, because it does not have the authority to get into the substance of the ruling, as it could only examine whether the judges in the previous court rulings properly applied the law and properly used their judicial powers.

The hearing will resume on Jan 26, when prosecutors will respond to the arguments made by Bashir's lawyers yesterday.

The JI network, formed in the early 1990s by Bashir, was detected in 2001. Many of the Singapore JI members studied with him at a school he set up in Ulu Tiram in Johor, a 30-minute drive from the Causeway.

JI was behind the planting of 20 bombs that went off outside churches across Indonesia on Christmas Eve in 2000. On Oct 12, 2002, two suicide bombers from the group killed 202 people and injured dozens in Bali.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2016, with the headline 'Militant cleric Bashir's final appeal'. Print Edition | Subscribe