Thursday, March 03, 2005

Islamic Justice

Today brings two illustrative examples of what passes for criminal justice in the Muslim world. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation on Earth, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, a cleric was convicted of conspiracy in the 2002 bombing in Bali which slaughtered 202 innocent people. He will be jailed for thirty months, which amounts to about four and a half days in prison for each Bali victim.
At the end of the court case, a statement read out by the five judges said Ba'asyir had not been directly involved in carrying out the Bali blasts, but had given his approval for the attacks.


A statement by the court said Ba'asyir was aware of the conspiracy behind the Bali bombings.

"The defendant knew that the perpetrators of the bombing were people who have been trained in bomb-making in Pakistan and Afghanistan... the conditions of evil conspiracy have been met," the statement said.
However, the court cleared Ba'asyir of complicity in a 2003 bombing of a Marriot hotel in Jakarta, a charge that would have carried a more serious prison sentence. This trial was not Ba'asyir's first encounter with terrorism charges; he was previously charged with Jemeeh Islamiah, a militant Islamist group with ties to al-Qaeda, but was "cleared for lack of evidence."

Ba'asyir addressed the court after his sentence was delivered, saying: "I don't accept this verdict. This is not justice. God protect us from evil and its allies. Please, either open their hearts or destroy them."

He reportedly smiled broadly as he was led out of court, while his supporters climbed onto chairs with chants of "God is greatest".

Ba'asyir's followers cheered as their leader was cleared of the Jakarta bombing - which killed 12 innocent people - but howled when the judges convicted him of the relatively minor charge of conspiracy in the Bali atrocity. US and Australian representatives expressed disappointment at the sentence.

Australia, which lost 88 people in the Bali attacks, said the relatively lenient sentence was "disappointing".

"We are disappointed with the length of the sentence," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told the BBC.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Jakarta also expressed disappointment at the sentence "given the gravity of the charges on which he was convicted".

Neither government indicated that Indonesia might face punitive measures for its gladhanding of Ba'asyir or its failure to restrain militant Islamists, which is fully consistent with Western governments' disregard for the lives of their citizens abroad.

Ironically, Ba'asyir and his supporters are probably pleased that he was not completely convicted, since even a small prison sentence can be used for propaganda purposes.

"It will increase his martyr status, but yet it doesn't cause him much discomfort," said Greg Barton, an expert on Jemaah Islamiah.

"If he was acquitted completely, it would have been less of a PR victory," Mr Barton told the BBC. "This way, it strengthens his argument that the [US-led] war on terror is way too heavy-handed and unjust."

The verdict may even make it easier for JI to recruit more members, he warned. "It's a pretty unfortunate circumstance all round."

In the eyes of a Islamist, justice consists of the murder of 202 infidels; prosecution for that crime is proof of an infidel conspiracy against Islam. Yet western countries continue to blithely admit tens of thousands of immigrants from Muslim nations as if no threat existed.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani appeals court has aquitted five men who were earlier found quilty of gang-raping Mukhtar Mai in 2002. The men allegedly raped Ms. Mai on the order of a local tribal counsel (known as a panchayat) in retaliation for allegations that her brother had raped a girl from a rival clan.

The panchayat in Meerwala, southern Punjab, had found Ms Mai's younger brother, Shakoor, guilty of raping a girl from the village's powerful Mastoi clan.

It was later revealed in a conventional court that the 12-year-old had in fact been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by the same men who later made up his jury.

It was alleged that Ms Mai was then taken away to be raped in revenge for her brother's supposed crime.

None of the 150 men present responded to her pleas for mercy, she said.

Ms. Mai cried as the five men were aquitted. Their lawyer, on the other hand, was elated.

Defence lawyer Mohammad Salim said: "Justice has been done. The verdict of the anti-terrorism court in August 2002 was largely influenced by media hype and government pressure."

That's true enough. Without media attention and government pressure no one would have been tried at all.

Displaying incredible courage, Ms. Mai declared her intention to soldier on in the face of legal reversals and hostility directed against her.

"I will go to appeal. I will go anywhere, wherever is necessary... to get my right," she told the Reuters news agency.


Ms Mai became famous after the rape for human rights work and pursuing the case through the courts, although she said she faced threats from her alleged attackers' supporters.

She built two schools in her village with the $9,400 compensation money she was awarded.

"Education will play a very, very important role in changing the minds of men. Without these schools, my life would be nothing," she told the BBC news website last year.

"Even if I don't succeed in my struggle," she says, "I'll keep trying until my death."

Sadly, if Ms. Mai continues to push for justice, she will very likely end up dead - like so many Pakistani women before her.


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