A bold verdict

AN INDONESIAN COURT'S verdict, convicting and sentencing to death a key figure behind the Bali bombing of 2002, could well prove a landmark in the fight against global terror. When the country with the largest Muslim population in the world treats a terrorist atrocity carried out in the name of religion as a capital crime, it sends out a powerful message that those who perpetrate such acts cannot seek shelter in religion. The terrorist organisation, Jemaah Islamiya, which is believed to have authored this outrage and others of a similar nature, proclaims that such acts are necessary for the furtherance of its millennial mission. The verdict conveys a sense of the consensus among Indonesians, especially the Muslim majority, that leniency should not be shown on any ground to those who commit mass murder. The court did not hesitate to call the killing of 202 people in the Bali attack what it was — a crime against humanity. The court was not rattled by the bomb that exploded in Jakarta two days before it passed judgment; the blast took 10 lives. Nor was the court fazed by the brazen exultation by Amrozi bin Nurhasyim over his murderous actions. Through his demeanour and conduct following the pronouncement of the death sentence, Amrozi clearly intended to send out a signal to like-minded fanatics to mobilise and act like him. The verdict holds out the promise that the Indonesian judiciary will not falter as it processes several other cases filed in connection with the Bali outrage.

The Amrozi case was prosecuted, and the sentence imposed, under a special anti-terrorism law. This shows that Indonesia has felt the need to readjust the normal judicial mechanism to deal with the phenomenon of terrorism. However, the Indonesian state has not succumbed to the temptation of resorting to large-scale suspension of human and civil rights. The curtailment of civil liberties has occurred in several countries around the world, including some with strong democratic credentials, when confronted with the phenomenon of fundamentalist terrorism. It is all the more remarkable that a sober and measured approach has been taken by a country that is still finding its democratic feet after long spells of dictatorship. It should be remembered that democratic institutions in Indonesia are still under pressure from a restive military that does not trust civilians to run the country effectively. The resilience displayed by the Indonesian judiciary should instil confidence in the Government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri that the institutions of the Indonesian state have the strength to withstand the terrorist challenge. Ms. Sukarnoputri, indeed the Indonesian political class as a whole, must now mobilise the people so that the sober and democratic views of the majority decisively prevail over the exhortations of fanatics.

If Indonesia stays the course, it could set an example to the other countries of South East Asia as they tackle the challenge of strengthening democratic institutions in the face of extremist challenges. The Philippines and Malaysia are other countries in the region that have clashed head-on with forces of de-stabilisation that supposedly take their inspiration from religion. In the global campaign against fundamentalist terrorism, there has been a lopsided emphasis on intelligence gathering and related security measures. Indonesia's success in bringing to justice a terrorist mastermind focusses on another area where various other countries should learn to do better. This particular verdict has demonstrated that resort to extra-judicial processes is not called for by the campaign against global terror.