[Marxism] Legal threat to Bali bombers' convictions

Tom O'Lincoln suarsos at alphalink.com.au
Sat Jul 24 02:10:31 MDT 2004

The Indonesian Constitutional Court has - apparently - overturned the
legal basis for the convictions of all the (alleged) Bali bombers. The
basic issue is that they were convicted under anti-terrorism legislation
passed after the event. That is, retrospective legislation.  The
decision came five months after an appeal hearing for one of the
convicted men - they took a long time to decide.

There's a passage somewhere in the Indonesian constitution which says
pretty definitely that retrospective legislation is unconstitutional,
and I've wondered whether this might torpedo the convictions in the end.
Perhaps it has, and now I wonder to whose benefit.

First to the facts, which aren't entirely clear. The Melbourne "Age"
says the court has ruled the terrorism law "illegal" and quotes the
judges as saying "law no 16 is against the constitution and has no
binding power".  The paper adds that 32 people have been convicted under
this law.

When I saw this I went to the website of "Kompas", Indonesia's leading
daily, and read their version which is rather different. It says the
decision was by a bare majority of 5, with 4 dissenting. Those
dissenting are quoted as making rather weak arguments along the lines
that to overturn the law will undermine law and order. The majority
thought that law no 16 "was not legally binding"  but perhaps only in
this case - they do not appear to throw the law out altogether.

"Kompas" paraphrases them as saying that "the Bali bombing does not fall
into the category of an exceptional crime which can be dealt with by
retrospective legislation". The argument seems to be that when you're
dealing with crimes against humanity or war crimes, retrospectivity is
OK. But they don't think the Bali bombings are of that order. It's not
clear where they think the boundary is.

This may well blow the whole set of Bali bombing convictions out of the
water. Certainly all the convicted men's lawyers will pounce on the
ruling, and the state's chances of ever imprisoning Abu Bakar Basyir
(supposedly ringleader) must be minimal now. But the Indonesian legal
system is complicated and corrupt, so it's hard to know where it will
all end up.

A few thoughts though. Firstly, like many who follow Indonesian
politics, I have long suspected that the military was behing the
bombings and that those being convicted were just scapegoats (which
isn't so say they weren't involved at a minor level). It makes
reasonable sense to suspect that the real powerbrokers promised their
underlings that despite initially being convicted, they would be rescued
eventually - as perhaps that's what is happening now.

There will be pressure from Canberra and Washington for the Indonesian
government to step in and make sure "the killers don't get off", but I'm
inclined to think President Megawati will resist this. Nationalism is
always popular in an election and she will probably tell the foreign
imperialists to get stuffed in public (but she might also tell them
privately that it'll be fixed after the election). Mega has already
responded last May to a US human rights report criticising Indonesia by
declaring that after Abu Ghraib, America had no business lecturing
others on human rights.

The whole thing might even help her undermine her opponent in the final
round of voting. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has made a point of being a
hawk in the "war on terror" but I don't think majority Indonesian
sentiment will be with him on this. If he lines up with Australia and
America, it could just push some of the Muslim groups into Mega's camp.

The ruling apparentlyl also undermines several convictions of human
rights abusers, which is one more reason I suspect the military is a
beneficiary of this decision and might have had a hand in it.

More information about the Marxism mailing list