| Abu Bakar Bashir in Jakarta. (AFP)
Jakarta, Sept. 2 (Reuters): An Indonesian court jailed Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir for four years on treason charges today, but said there was not enough evidence to prove he led the radical Jemaah Islamiah network blamed for bombings in Southeast Asia.
The sentence was less than the 15 years demanded by the prosecution in the case, which has been widely seen as a test of the willingness of the world’s most populous Muslim nation to crack down on radical Islam.
The 65-year-old preacher and educator, who rejected all charges against him and earlier denounced the prosecutors as lackeys of the enemies of Islam, said he would appeal and urged his supporters to remain calm.
“I ask you to remain orderly, and be careful of provocateurs from America,” Bashir said soon after sentencing. His supporters shouted “Allah--Akbar” (God is Great).
The panel of five judges ruled that Bashir had participated in acts of treason, but had not necessarily led a plot to topple Indonesia’s secular government.
“Although the treason acts were proven, there has not been enough evidence to prove Abu Bakar Bashir was the leader of treason acts of trying to oust the lawful government,” said presiding judge Muhammad Saleh.
“The panel has an opinion that Abu Bakar Bashir has not been proven as the leader of Jemaah Islamiah,” Saleh said earlier. Officials link Jemaah Islamiah with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida, the group blamed by Washington for the September 11, 2001, suicide hijacking attacks on the US.
Investigators have also linked the group to last October’s Bali bomb blast, which killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, and a car bomb attack on a Jakarta hotel that killed 12 people on August 5. Bashir was charged with plotting to kill President Megawati Sukarnoputri when she was vice-president, and overthrow the government. He was also charged in connection with church bombings that killed 19 people three years ago.
Defence lawyer Mahendradatta said earlier the defence would appeal if the verdict went against them. “If the verdict is guilty, we will definitely appeal because he is truly not guilty,” he said.“Too many things have been made up, so if we don’t fight that would be really funny.”
Supporters of Bashir crammed into the courtroom and milled around outside at the start of the day, chanting“Allahu Akbar”.
Police with water cannon stood by in case of trouble. One person in the crowd wore a bin Laden T-shirt.
Bashir, wearing a white cap and shawl over a black jacket and sarong, urged his supporters before proceedings began to stay calm.
”Believe me, we will win, as long as we uphold God's law,” he said into a microphone when the panel of judges allowed him to make a statement before taking his seat.“My message is stay calm, let us show our Muslim behaviour.”
Bashir, who has campaigned openly for the establishment of Islamic law in Indonesia, denounced the trial earlier as a set-up and denied all charges or any knowledge of Jemaah Islamiah.
He had denounced the demand for a 15-year sentence as ”devious and cruel because it was prompted by pressure from the infidels, the enemies of Islam”.
While Indonesian authorities have been vigorous in their pursuit of Bali bombing suspects Ä one of whom has already been sentenced to death Ä none has the public profile of Bashir.
Bashir himself has not been directly implicated in the Bali bombings or the Jakarta hotel blast.
At an Islamic school Bashir co-founded near the central Java city of Solo, a stronghold of support for the cleric, school director Wahyuddin told scores of reporters that there were no plans for a demonstration if the verdict was guilty.
”I don't think it is necessary. It will not be useful. It's better for us to pray against this tyranny.”