Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A follow up post: Bashir's Sentence was Reduced

Four months ago, terrorist ring leader, founder of Jemaah Islamiah, Mr. Abu Bakar Bashir was sentenced to 15 years prison. Back then, I stressed the fact that his organization was no longer important and thus the court was willing to gave such a long sentence on him.

Today, it was reported that apparently the higher court reduced his sentence to nine years in prison. There was no explanation for this reduction, though according to VIVAnews, the reduction was based on humanitarian grounds, that Bashir is a 73-year old man. This means that should the Supreme Court uphold this new sentence, Bashir could be free as early as by the end of 2017.

Considering the fact that there is a lack of transparency in the Indonesian justice system, trying to understand the court's rationale is like reading tea-leaves, as it gives more questions than answers. Still, let me offer a few thoughts on this case.

First, being a judge in a higher court is a thankless job. His or her decision is not final: it can still be appealed further to the Supreme Court. Worse, unpopular decisions can serve as a death knell to a judge's career. In contrast, judges in lower court have more leeway, and besides, they are low ranking officials anyway with a lot of cases to decide. A few stupid or unpopular decisions won't hurt their careers to the same extent as judges higher up the ladder.

Bashir's trial is to some degree a hot potato. True, Bashir's influence has been declining and he doesn't pose the same kind of pernicious threat to Indonesia he did about a decade ago. But he does have some very vocal supporters, and some unscrupulous politicians likely want to court them to further their own self-interests. And in the process of doing so, these politicians will criticize and vilify the judges. Meantime, the judges look out for their long-term interests (e.g. a Supreme Court Justice nomination), trying to prevent any chance that their rulings may later backfire on them. So what happens? The courts cave into existing political pressures.

I'd also hazard to guess that the reduction was simply the court's way of telling Bashir's supporters and other fundamentalists to go away and kicked the can further down the road to the Supreme Court. A six year reduction in sentence isn't particularly extensive, but at the same time, it's still significant, considering Mr. Bashir's age. The court is likely covering its back, and letting the Supreme Court take the heat on whatever sentence he'll finally receive.

Thus, Bashir's saga is interesting, not that it shows that Bashir is still relevant, but because it reveals the dysfunctional Indonesian justice system, in that the court can still be influenced and bullied by either popular will or political pressures.

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