Jakarta says release of JI leader Abu Bakar Bashir being reviewed

Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is escorted by anti-terror police squad as he arrives for his appeal trial at a court in Cilacap, Central Java, Indonesia, on Jan 12, 2016.
Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is escorted by anti-terror police squad as he arrives for his appeal trial at a court in Cilacap, Central Java, Indonesia, on Jan 12, 2016.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - The fate of Abu Bakar Bashir is now in his own hands even as a review of an earlier decision to release the convicted terrorist leader is underway, said a senior aide of President Joko Widodo.

Mr Bey Machmudin said on Wednesday (Jan 23) Bashir will need to decide if he is willing to submit to the government's conditions before he can be granted early release from his 15-year jail term.

"The President did not say 'cancel'," said Mr Bey, who is deputy to state secretary in charge of state protocol and media affairs at the Istana. "It is all up to Abu Bakar Bashir now, as there are conditions that must be met (before he can be freed)."

Mr Bey was commenting on reports in local media on Wednesday that Mr Joko has called off Bashir's release.

The President had on Tuesday said Bashir would only be released from prison if he pledged allegiance to the Republic of Indonesia and the state ideology Pancasila, as is required of all reformed terrorists.

Mr Joko said he has left it to Bashir and his family to decide on this, while a government team - consisting of relevant security ministries, police and Indonesia's counter-terrorism agency - that has been tasked to review legal aspects of a possible conditional release for Bashir is still looking into the matter. The team has yet to issue a recommendation.

Some local reports, citing Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko, who goes by just one name, as saying that the plan to free Bashir has been cancelled, "because the requirements could not be negotiated".

 
 

Mr Moeldoko was referring to the plan to give Bashir a conditional release - as was first announced last Friday before the government backtracked and formed the review team. Mr Bey said the offer to release 80-year old Bashir was based on humanitarian aspects, while the existing law must be upheld.

 

Law Minister Yasonna Laoly told reporters on Tuesday that the government review team was studying and evaluating Bashir's ideology and checking his concept of the Republic of Indonesia, as any terrorist inmate granted a parole must be loyal to the nation.

 

Mr Joko faced widespread criticism after a legal adviser on his presidential campaign said Bashir, the spiritual leader of South-east Asia terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), would be given an unconditional release, based on humanitarian grounds due to his deteriorating health.

JI was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, Indonesia's deadliest terrorist attack in which 202 people were killed, 88 of them Australian. The move to release Bashir, who is still seen as a threat, drew strong criticism both domestically and internationally - especially from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Bashir has been in jail since his arrest in 2009, and was in 2011 sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for funding a terrorist training camp in Indonesia's westernmost province of Aceh.

Critics of the contemplated parole for Bashir claim the decision to release him was politically motivated with Mr Joko seeking to burnish his Islamic credentials.