The Bali Bombing Trials Are a Farce:
Matt Brown observesÂ perverse scenesÂ during the trial of accused 2002 Bali bomb-maker Umar Patek:
Ali Imron hasÂ clearly come to enjoy his star turn in the witness chair. He’s settled in to an extended sit down comedy routine, joking about various aspects of the bomb plot, playing each line for laughs.
I’ve heard people explain away this sort of thing as a culturally specific means of dealing with difficult issues â€“ a nervous Asian laugh at uncomfortable content …
But I’m not convinced …
Umar Patek enjoyed the show, giggling along with his old accomplice.
What was perhaps more telling, was thatÂ the judges had a hearty laugh as well. So did a good number of the police, spooks and journalists in the public gallery. It’s happened before, I know, but that makes it no less distasteful. And I just can’t see it through some sort of moral relativist lens.Â
Bali bombings no laughing matter
ELIZABETH JACKSON: The trial of Umar Patek who’s accused of mixing the explosive used in the 2002 Bali bombings is coming to a head in Jakarta.
He’s a veteran of the militant training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which equipped so many hard line Islamists with lethal skills in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Nearly 10 years after the explosives tore through Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club, he’s being brought to account.
But, as has been the case with many of the bomb cell members, there’s no sign of any real contrition.
And our Indonesia Correspondent, Matt Brown, says the courts continue to present outside observers with jarring scenes.
MATT BROWN: Talking about mass murder, far removed from the scene of the crime, is always strange I think, because it’s out of context. Something grizzly and awful can become distant and sterile.
But at times over the past two weeks Umar Patek’s trial has been absurd.
Patek’s accused of mixing the explosives for the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
The key witness has been erstwhile fellow extremist, Ali Imron, who was also a key member of the Bali cell.
After he was arrested Ali Imron expressed remorse and gave evidence against his co-conspirators. He even helped send his brother, the so-called smiling bomber, Amrozi, to the firing squad.
Nine years later he’s clearly come to enjoy his star turn in the witness chair.
So much so, he’s settled in to an extended sit down comedy routine, joking about various aspects of the bomb plot, playing each line for laughs.
I’ve heard people explain away this sort of thing as a culturally specific means of dealing with difficult issues – a nervous Asian laugh at uncomfortable content. I remember it being discussed a great deal during Amrozi’s trial. But I’m not convinced.
Plenty of people might laugh a bit when confessing to some sort of wrong-doing. It’s a way of softening the blow. It’s why we’ve got the expression, ‘a nervous laugh’. And it’s not what was going on in that West Jakarta court.
After all, Ali Imron has told and retold this story many times. But he still made a gag out of the fact that Amrozi caused a small explosion at the safe house while the bob was being prepared. And it was also apparently still funny that they played loud, western music – he described it as ‘barbaric’ – to throw the neighbours off the scent. Likewise, it was still worth a joke when he told the court how the suicide bomber couldn’t drive until just days before he parked the explosives laden van outside the Sari Club.
It’s not a cultural, nervous tick, it’s a standard slapstick formula. And, the more he rolls it out, the more obvious that is. To be sure, Umar Patek enjoyed the show, giggling along with his old accomplice.
What was perhaps more telling, was that the judges had a hearty laugh as well. So did a good number of the police, spooks and journalists in the public gallery. It’s happened before, I know, but that makes it no less distasteful. And I just can’t see it through some sort of moral relativist lens. What I saw was a collective moral failure to appreciate the gravity of what was being discussed.
There were more strange moments on Thursday, when Australian survivors of the bombings, Stuart Anstee, Jason McCartney and Peter Hughes, testified.
They did have a chance to tell the court about the death and destruction they witnessed, their horrible wounds and the lasting emotional scars.
None of them could provide evidence of the conspiracy or its overall impact. But each was put on the spot with odd questions, like, how many total casualties the bomb caused, or what kind of bomb it was.
Jason McCartney described wounds so bad he had to quit his football career. Peter Hughes described being so burned he went into a coma. And Stuart Anstee recalled how he ran from the Sari Club, with blood spurting from a severed jugular vein. Each of them acknowledged ongoing mental trauma and insecurity.
And after all of that, one of the judges, with a bit of a flourish, asked each man if he still love Bali and Indonesia.
In varying ways they said they do, while admitting anger at the attackers.
Maybe they wanted a chance to distinguish between the nation and the extremists who tried to kill them.
But to me it seemed a gratuitous question, out of place in a murder trial. It was as if the victims were being put to the test: asked to agree with the usual line that the broader Indonesian society is not responsible for the actions of these few extremists.
But the point is, that in this context, how could they answer otherwise?
It was the sort of hackneyed question you’d expect in diplomacy or journalism, not the judiciary.
The judge’s were, for the most part, polite. But after the comedy show they enjoyed with Ali Imron, it was odd that they rebuked Peter Hughes for sitting askew as he waited for Stuart Anstee’s evidence, telling him to sit up straight, or leave the court.
Umar Patek’s trial will continue next week.
This is Matt Brown in Jakarta for Correspondents Report.
Brown seems to haveÂ improvedÂ in recent years. As for this comedy court, it could do with a nudge towards civilisation.