JAKARTA - 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 on Saturday (Jan 19).
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 Islamic sharia 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 on Friday (Jan 18), 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 a running mate a notable cleric, Ma'ruf Amin, formerly the chairman of the Indonesia Ulema Council and supreme leader of Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama.
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 when they began repeatedly requesting for his freedom.
Mr Muhammad Mahendradatta, one of his 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.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Saturday 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 with Bashir's release.
Melbourne man Jan Laczynski, who lost five friends in the blasts, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Mr Jokowi 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 man Dewa Ketut Rudita, who suffered burns to 35 per cent of his body in the blasts and had his right eye injured, 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 requiring him 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 has 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," said 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.
Mr Achmad Michdan, another Bashir's lawyers, told the news conference on Saturday that he would be freed sometime between Monday and Thursday next week while confirming that he may continue to preach and accept guests in his hometown of Solo, in Central Java.