The Indonesian government’s plan to release an elderly cleric convicted of terrorism is still being studied, the country’s security minister said yesterday. On Friday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, 80, would be granted a compassionate release because he was ill and frail.
The president’s legal advisor said the same day that Bashir would be released in the coming days. Joko’s co-ordinating minister for security, Wiranto, said the government was still mulling the proposal. “The president will not act hastily,” Wiranto said at a press conference late yesterday, according to state news agency Antara. “The president has ordered relevant authorities to study the proposal comprehensively.”
Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 for helping fund a training camp for militants in Aceh province and inciting militants to carry out terrorist attacks.
Bashir is considered the spiritual leader of the group Jemaah Islamiah, whose members were responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people and a string of other attacks in Indonesia since 2000. Joko’s announcement of Bashir’s pending release sparked online protests from Indonesians who view the move as an affront to victims of terrorist attacks.
Joko is running for re-election on April 17 and has sought to woo the votes of conservative Muslims, many of whom see him as being hostile to Islamist politics and support opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday urged Indonesia to respect its opposition to Bashir’s possible release.
Morrison told reporters Monday that he and other government leaders had been in direct contact with their Indonesian counterparts over the release of Bashir. “Australians died horrifically on that night, and I think Australians everywhere would be expecting that this matter was treated with the utmost seriousness by our government, which it is,” the Australian Associated Press quoted Morrison as saying.
Australians expect “that the Indonesian government would show great respect for Australia in how they manage this issue,” he added.
Eighty-eight of the more than 200 people killed in the 2002 bombings of Bali nightclubs were Australians, and Canberra has previously urged against leniency for Bashir. “We have been consistent always — governments of both persuasions, over a long period of time — about our concerns about Abu Bakar Bashir,” Morrison said. “He should serve what the Indonesian justice system has delivered to him as his sentence.”
Bashir, who lived in Malaysia for years, was arrested in 2003 after the Bali bombings but prosecutors found no evidence of his involvement in the attack. The court cleared him of terrorism charges and instead sentenced him to 18 months in prison for immigration offences.
Bashir was eligible for parole last year, but he did not apply for it because he refused to sign a pledge of allegiance to the state and its ideology, known as Pancasila, as conditions for his early release, his lawyer Muhammad Mahendradatta said.
Mahendradatta said Bashir should be released unconditionally on grounds of compassion.
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