Lawyers lobbied 3 years for JI founder's release

Abu Bakar Bashir (centre) and his visitor, Professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra (right in picture), a legal adviser to the Joko-Ma'ruf presidential campaign team, at Gunung Sindur prison last Friday.
Abu Bakar Bashir (centre) and his visitor, Professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra (right in picture), a legal adviser to the Joko-Ma'ruf presidential campaign team, at Gunung Sindur prison last Friday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Radical cleric due for probation anyway, say lawyers; those affected by 2002 Bali blasts angered by news

The legal team for radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir had been lobbying for his release from prison for the past three years, his lawyers disclosed at a news conference yesterday.

Bashir, 80, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 for funding a terrorist training camp in Indonesia's westernmost province of Aceh, where syariah law applies.

He is widely regarded as the spiritual leader of South-east Asia terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) and the alleged mastermind of the deadliest terrorist attack in Indonesia - the 2002 Bali bombings - that killed 202 people, 88 of whom were Australians.

In a surprise move last Friday, President Joko Widodo announced the cleric's release from prison, saying the decision was based on humanitarian grounds and his ill health.

But critics of the President claim it was politically motivated and was connected to the presidential poll in April. Mr Joko, who is seeking re-election, has faced accusations of being anti-Islam and a communist.

To boost his Islamic credentials, he chose as running mate a notable cleric, Dr Ma'ruf Amin, formerly the chairman of the Indonesian Ulama Council and supreme leader of Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama.

NO CONSIDERATION FOR VICTIMS

As a human with empathy, I understand that he is old. I empathise with that. But shouldn't the victims and families of the bombings be given consideration? How we would feel about it?

MR DEWA KETUT RUDITA, who suffered burns to 35 per cent of his body in the blasts and was injured in his right eye.

Bashir's lawyers, in an apparent effort to address perceptions that Mr Joko had made a quick decision, said it was instead the result of a long process of repeatedly requesting for his freedom.

Mr Muhammad Mahendradatta, one of the lawyers, also noted that his client was already due for parole and there was nothing "extraordinary" about his release.

Under prevailing rules, Bashir would have been eligible for probation after serving two-thirds of his sentence, a period he passed on Dec 13 last year.

Bashir has been in jail since his arrest in 2009 and was sentenced in 2011. He is due to be freed this week.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters yesterday that he has been in contact with the Indonesian government over Bashir's release. "Australia's position on this matter has not changed. We've always expressed the deepest of reservations," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Some of those affected by the Bali blasts were also fuming about Bashir's release.

Melbourne man Jan Laczynski, who lost five friends in the blasts, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that Mr Joko should have considered "all the people all around the world who are still suffering because of this bombing".

"Who is next? Ali Imron, the guy who made the bomb? It's frightening," Mr Laczynski said.

 

Indonesian Dewa Ketut Rudita, who suffered burns to 35 per cent of his body in the blasts and was injured in his right eye, said he was "disappointed, of course".

"As a human with empathy, I understand that he is old. I empathise with that. But shouldn't the victims and families of the bombings be given consideration? How we would feel about it?" he was quoted as saying in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Professor Yusril Ihza Mahendra, a legal adviser to the Joko-Ma'ruf presidential campaign team, has disclosed that Bashir's release would be unconditional, without his requiring to sign documents acknowledging guilt or affirming loyalty to the Indonesian state and state ideology Pancasila.

Concerns about the cleric's influence in radical networks remain with his release.

"He won't be touring the country rabble-rousing as he had done in the past. But he is very much the elder statesman of the extremist movement, so there will be an endless flood of visitors to his house," Ms Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict and an expert on terrorism in South-east Asia, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 20, 2019, with the headline 'Lawyers lobbied 3 years for JI founder's release'. Print Edition | Subscribe