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Treason letoff heat on Jakarta

Jakarta, Dec. 1 (Reuters): An Indonesian high court has cleared radical Muslim preacher Abu Bakar Bashir of treason but upheld other charges.

A spokesperson for the Jakarta court also said today Bashir’s prison sentence, handed down in September, had been reduced to three years from four.

Lawyers for Bashir said they had not received notification from the court on the appeal and would still fight for his release.

But the decision brought immediate criticism from some analysts who saw it signalling a softer Indonesian stand on militancy. Security hardliners in the West as well as in neighbouring countries such as Singapore had attacked the original four-year sentence as too light.

A Jakarta lower court ruled in September that Bashir, accused of being the spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiah militant Muslim network, at least knew the group existed, and convicted him of treason and other charges. But it said allegations Bashir led Jemaah Islamiah, blamed for actual and planned violence throughout the region, were unproven.

The appellate court, in a ruling announced today, overturned the treason conviction but upheld charges of forging documents and violating immigration laws, the spokesman said.

“The high court has decided the defendant has to be punished for three years,” said high court spokesperson Hasan Basri, who said the ruling was reached last month but not announced.

“The defendant has been proven guilty of forging documents, and getting in and out of Indonesia without going through immigration. However, on the charge of toppling the government that was ruled proven by the lower court, the appeals panel ruled that it was not proven,” he told reporters.

Sidney Jones, Indonesia project director for the International Crisis Group think-tank, said the ruling could make the conviction of other militant suspects harder.

“It’s an unfortunate decision by the appeals court because it’s going to make it much more difficult for Indonesian prosecutors to convict members of Jemaah Islamiah simply for their role in the organisation,” Jones said.

The Jemaah Islamiah is widely seen as al Qaida’s arm in Southeast Asia.

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