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Indonesian Court Sentences Muslim Cleric to Four Years for Treason

However, Bashir was acquitted of leading the militant Islamic group Jemaah Islamiyah, which planned to overthrow the secular government.

Although witnesses at Bashir’s trial testified that he was the spiritual leader for Jemaah Islamiyah, the panel of five judges ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim.

Jemaah Islamiyah is believed to have ties to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network and is blamed for the bombings in Bali in October 2002. The group is also believed to have carried out an Aug. 5 car bomb attack on a Jakarta hotel, which killed 12 people.

Presiding judge Muhammed Saleh said, “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.”

The prosecution had asked for Bashir to be sentenced to 15 years in prison, claiming he had supported a string of church bombings in Southeast Asia three years ago, and was involved in a plot to kill Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The judge said the shorter sentence took into account the 65-year-old cleric’s age and his polite behavior in court.

The preacher denied the charges against him and appealed to his supporters to react calmly to his sentencing.

“I cannot accept this, therefore I will appeal,” he said.

“I ask you to remain orderly, and be careful of provocateurs from America,” he continued, as his supporters chanted, “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).

The Bashir case is seen as a gauge of Indonesia’s ability and willingness to prosecute Muslim extremists, and while the cleric’s sentence is lighter than many had hoped, it is considered meaningful that the Indonesian government now acknowledges the existence of the Jemaah Islamiyah organization.

Bashir became involved in Islamic politics in the 1950s, when he led a moderate Islamic group devoted to the peaceful establishment of an Islamic state. He is the co-founder of an Islamic boarding school that is considered to produce militants and radicals. Many of those charged in the 2002 Bali bombing were graduates of Bashir’s school.