Jakarta court rules against anti-terror laws

Judges say that powerful anti-terrorism decree introduced after Bali bombings should not have been made retroactive.

In a major setback in the fight against Islamic extremism, Indonesia’s highest court yesterday ruled that a tough anti-terrorism law used to jail Al-Qaeda linked militants was unconstitutional.

It immediately raised the possibility of Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist group, walking free in the midst of prosecutors preparing a damning case against him.

The decision also throws into doubt the conviction of 32 terrorists charged under the law, riling security officials who had been criticised in the past for doing little in the war on terror.

A senior police officer in charge of counter-terrorism told The Straits Times: ‘This is very frustrating. We catch these people and the courts let them go. We keep sending mixed messages about our resolve. This time, our message to the terrorists is that we are too weak to do anything against them.’

Indonesia enacted an anti-terror decree soon after the Bali bombings in October 2002 that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. The decree, which allowed for the death sentence and the detention of suspects for six months without trial, was made retroactive to cover the Bali attack.

It was made law last year.

But Mr Jimly Asshidique, who led the panel of judges that ruled five to four against the law, said that it should not have been applied retroactively. The nine judges were considering an appeal by Masykur Abdul Kadir who was jailed for 15 years for helping the Bali bombers.

There was confusion over the judges’ decision.

Court official Muhammad Asrun told reporters that it would not affect the verdicts on the Bali bombers, three of whom face the death penalty.

But critics charged that it could inadvertently pave the way for fresh appeals from those convicted.

Terrorism expert Muchyar Yara, who was involved in the Bali investigations, noted: ‘It is going to be open season for the defence lawyers of those militants in jail now. What is to stop them from making an appeal? They have got it on a silver platter.

‘The court’s decision might force the whole process of investigating the Bali bombings back to the starting line. It is going to be time-consuming, costly and confusing for the police.’

A key question surrounds the status of Bashir who is now in detention as state prosecutors prepare to bring formal charges against him.

Police believe that they have new evidence against the 65-year-old cleric which will show him leading JI and being responsible for all recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia in recent years.

But following the ruling of the Constitutional Court, Bashir’s lawyers called for him to be freed immediately, saying there were ‘no more legal grounds to hold him in police detention’.

The ruling also cast a deep shadow over Jakarta’s ability to battle terrorism in the long run.

Mr Martin Hughes of the Jakarta-based Control Risks Group, a security consultancy, told The Straits Times: ‘Indonesia stands to lose face over this thorny issue given that the anti-terror law was validation of its resolve to combat terrorism. All the hard work it has put in over the last two years is now at risk of being lost.’

Judges voted 5-to-4

INDONESIA enacted an anti-terror decree soon after the Bali bombings in October 2002 that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. The decree, which allowed for the death sentence and the detention of suspects for six months without trial, was made retroactive to cover the Bali attack. It was made law last year.

But Mr Jimly Asshidique, who led the panel of judges that ruled five to four against thlaw, said that it should not have been applied retroactively. The nine judges were considering an appeal by Masykur Abdul Kadir who was jailed for 15 years for helping the Bali bombers.

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