Life sentence for Amrozi would be smarter move

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 August, 2003, 12:00am

It will be hard to shed a tear for 'smiling bomber' Amrozi if his role in the Bali blasts leads to his death at the hands of an Indonesian firing squad.

His grotesque reaction to the sentence imposed on him in a Denpasar courtroom on Thursday was to grin broadly and give a 'thumbs up' to onlookers, who included relatives of the 202 people murdered in the bloody terrorist attack last October. The 41-year-old mechanic has shown no shred of remorse and has instead revelled in the publicity the trial attracted. He enthusiastically played the role of holy warrior and showed every sign of looking forward to becoming a martyr for his cause. He deserves no sympathy.

But the wisdom of imposing the death penalty in a case such as this must be questioned. Making Amrozi pay the ultimate price for his part in this calculated and brutal act of mass murder will no doubt provide some small measure of comfort to those who lost loved ones in the bombings. They will continue to feel the pain long after the grinning bomber is dead. Screams of 'die Amrozi', such as those heard from one victim in the courtroom, are entirely understandable.

But not everyone who has suffered as a result of this tragedy wants to see Amrozi face the firing squad. Many would have been happy to see him given life imprisonment instead. There are a number of reasons why this would be preferable.

The moral debate about the rights and wrongs of the death penalty in general plays second place here to the problem of how best to deal with terrorists in an age when murderous fanatics supported by well-organised international groups pose a constant threat. It requires particular care when dealing with Muslim extremists like Amrozi in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country.

What is certain is that sending him to the firing squad will not deter others. Groups such as Jemaah Islamiah have no shortage of volunteers for suicide bombings. For them, death is not a penalty: it is the ultimate - although misguided - act of religious devotion. Executing Amrozi will instead have the opposite effect, as he will become a martyr. His death will provide inspiration for others like him and will breed yet more fanatics bent on death and destruction.

Locking him up for life would have a more constructive effect. Not only would it frustrate his twisted aspirations to die for the cause, it would turn him into an enduring symbol of what happens to those who resort to murder. There is nothing glorious about languishing behind bars. As some relatives of the bombing victims have realised, death for Amrozi will give him an easy way out.

The important issue is justice. That has been served by the trial and conviction. Sending Amrozi to his death will be counterproductive. It would be better to let him quietly rot in jail.