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House arrest ruled out for Indonesia’s ailing radical cleric

Jailed Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir gestures during a court appearance in Cilacap, Central Java. (File Photo: AFP)
JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Ministry of Justice and Human Rights said cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is ineligible for house arrest, one of the options the government said it was considering as leniency to the ailing cleric.
“House arrest is only available for a defendant who is standing trial, while he (Bashir) is no longer a defendant. He is a prisoner, convicted to serve time in prison,” Ade Kusmanto, a spokesman for the ministry’s Directorate General of Correction, told Arab News.
Last week, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told journalists at the state palace that house arrest for the cleric is very likely, as the government is weighing up which form of clemency it could give to Bashir. The cleric suffers from pooling of blood on his legs, a condition which requires him to undergo regular medical check-ups.
On Mar. 1, Bashir was taken to a hospital in Jakarta for treatment which his lawyer, Achmad Michdan, said had been scheduled for Nov. 2017.
President Joko Widodo said the government gave permission for Bashir to go to the hospital on humanitarian grounds.
Kusmanto said the cleric can ask the president for clemency, given that he is in poor health and will become an octogenarian this year. Another possibility is to demand parole, for which he will be eligible in June 2019 when he will have served two-thirds of his 15-year prison sentence.
Talking to Arab News, Michdan said his client rules out both the options since applying for either one would mean that Bashir pleads guilty to the charges against him.
Bashir was convicted in 2011 for supporting paramilitary training in Aceh, and the firebrand cleric is described as the ideological icon of Jamaah Islamia (JI), including those who carried out bomb attacks in Bali in 2003.
“Bashir believes he is innocent because he was merely observing his faith as a Muslim. He was collecting money to fund training and travel for those who wanted to go as mujahideen to Palestine. He wasn’t rebelling against the country,” Michdan said.
Michdan said that it should be possible for the government to “relocate the place” where Bashir serves his sentence from Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, West Java, to his house in Solo, Central Java.
He cited examples of jailed former Jakarta governor Basuki TjaHajja Purnama, who is serving his two-year sentence for blasphemy at a special police detention instead of a correctional facility, and East Timor resistance fighter Xanana Gusmao who had been imprisoned in Jakarta when he was fighting for East Timor’s independence from Indonesia. He was then confined to a house in Central Jakarta in 1999.
Terrorism analyst Adhe Bakti said even though house arrest is not regulated in the Criminal Procedures Code, Gusmao’s case was laden with political context at that time when East Timor was going for a referendum in which they voted for independence from Indonesia on Aug. 30, 1999.
“But the government could make a breakthrough by giving him (Bashir) leniency to serve the rest of his sentence on house isolation based on humanitarian grounds. At least it would project a positive image of the government before the Islamists,” Bakti told Arab News.
Bakti warned that isolation remains necessary given Bashir’s revered position among militants.
“Even though he is no longer affiliated with Daesh, he still very much identified with radical teaching,” Bakti said.