Release of radical cleric Bashir comes with conditions: Indonesian President Jokowi

VIDEO: REUTERS
Abu Bakar Bashir, the radical cleric thought to be the spiritual leader of the Bali bombers, will be released from prison on medical grounds this week.
Abu Bakar Bashir, the radical cleric thought to be the spiritual leader of the Bali bombers, will be released from prison on medical grounds this week.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - President Joko Widodo has clarified that radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir would only be released from prison if he pledged allegiance to Indonesia and its national ideology Pancasila, which promotes tolerance, as is required of all reformed terrorists. 

“This is a conditional release, not a pure release, so all the requirements have to be met. It is not possible for me to breach the regulations,” Mr Joko told reporters at the presidential palace on Tuesday (Jan 22). 

“These are very basic and fundamental. Abu Bakar Bashir and family have to make the call,” the president added, referring to the pledges. 

Mr Joko’s remarks come after widespread criticism of the government’s decision last Friday to release Bashir, the 80-year-old spiritual leader of South-east Asia terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), on humanitarian grounds because of his deteriorating health.

Mr Joko’s legal adviser on his presidential campaign had said the same day Bashir would be given an unconditional release this week.

JI was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist attack in which 202 people were killed, 88 of them Australian.

The decision to release Bashir had drawn strong criticism both domestically and internationally - especially from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison - with Bashir still seen as a threat.

This latest clarification, and the government’s announcement on Monday that the release decision would be reviewed, appears to backtrack on the controversial plan to free the cleric.

 
 
 
 

Bashir was the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, although he was never convicted for the terrorist incident.

He 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.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla had separately told reporters on Tuesday that the government’s review would cover legal aspects of the release and would be carried out independently, not taking into account views from other countries. 

“We do not take into consideration either objections or support from other nations. It’s the same with Australia when Indonesia protested against them recognising West Jerusalem (as Israel’s capital)... They went ahead and recognised it,” Mr Kalla said.

Mr Kalla also noted on Tuesday that if Bashir dies in prison, it could create misunderstandings, but did not elaborate.

Australian PM Morrison on Tuesday asked Mr Joko to “show great respect to Australia” by making Bashir serve his full sentence.

“We have been consistent always - governments of both persuasions over a long period of time - about our concerns about Abu Bakar Bashir and that he should serve what the Indonesian justice system has delivered to him as his sentence,” he told News Corp Australia on Tuesday.

“We have been very clear about the need to ensure that as part of our joint counter-terrorism efforts - we have an excellent counter terrorism partnership with Indonesia - that Abu Bakar Bashir would not be in any position or in any way able to influence or incite anything,” said Mr Morrison.

Critics of the President claim the decision to release Bashir was politically motivated and connected to the presidential poll in April.

Mr Joko, who is running for his second and final term in office, has faced accusations of being anti-Islam and a communist, and Bashir’s release is seen by some as a move to boost Mr Joko’s Islamic credentials.

Law and human rights minister Yasonna Laoly dismissed claims that Bashir’s planned release was politically motivated. “There is no politics,” he said on Tuesday.

Mr Yasonna said that under the legal system - which allows for a prisoner to be released early after serving two-thirds of his sentence - Bashir could be released on parole, but until today he has not agreed to meet all the necessary conditions.

Bashir's family had requested his early release since 2017 because of his poor health.