JAKARTA: Abu Bakar Bashir, Indonesia’s Muslim cleric known for his radical religious views and the ideological icon for the 2002 Bali bombers, is to be released from prison next week on health grounds, his lawyers confirmed on Saturday.
Muhammad Mahendradatta, the head of Bashir’s legal team, told journalists at a press conference that Bashir had served eight years out of his 15-year sentence. He said the team had been seeking his early release for the past two years, as his poor health required him to undergo regular medical checkups.
“So this early release didn’t just come out of the blue. This is a legal matter, (not) a gift. It is his right for parole and a normal procedure that has legal grounds,” Mahendrattta said, rebuffing claims that the cleric’s release had any political interests just because it required the approval of the president.
“We are talking about the office of the president. Whoever is sitting in office now would be required to do so,” Mahendradatta said.
Incumbent President Joko Widodo is running for a second term in office on April 17 amid a popular perception that he lacks Islamic credentials and that his regime persecutes the ulemas.
Achmad Michdan, one of Bashir’s lawyer, said the cleric had been eligible for parole by Dec. 13, but he remained in prison as he refused to sign a document for his release that required him to pledge loyalty to the state ideology of Pancasila.
“We understand and respect his views and his refusal to be tied to terrorism,” Michdan said.
According to Widodo’s legal adviser Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who lobbied the president for Bashir’s release, the cleric insisted that he would only be loyal to God, even if that meant that he would have to serve the rest of his sentence.
Mahendra, who is the leader of a minor Islamic political party, said the political gravity of Bashir’s case required the president’s approval to override a regulation that details conditions for the early release of extraordinary offenders, including terrorism offenders.
“President Jokowi’s consideration to grant the release was based on humanitarian grounds and his respect for the ulemas,” Mahendra said, referring to the president by his nickname.
He added that, as the president’s legal adviser, he had been entrusted by Widodo with taking care of the matter and coordinating accordingly with related ministers and law enforcement agencies.
Mahendradatta said the release would be unconditional from both the government’s and Bashir’s side.
The decision was announced on Friday, after the first presidential debate on Thursday evening, during which Widodo and his opponent Prabowo Subianto and their respective running mates, head of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) Ma’ruf Amin and former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno, presented their visions and programs on law enforcement, human rights, and terrorism.
“The MUI has issued an edict that declares terrorism is not jihad and that it is haram (forbidden in Islam),” Amin said when he spoke in the debate.
Bashir was convicted in 2011 of supporting paramilitary training in Aceh. The cleric is described as the ideological icon of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), including those who carried out bomb attacks in Bali in 2002. Bashir has insisted that he was not rebelling against the country and that he was only collecting money to fund training and travel for those who wanted to go as mujahideen to Palestine.
Bashir could have asked for clemency to get an early release but refused to do so since it would have meant pleading guilty to the charges against him.
In March last year, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said the government was weighing up which form of sentence leniency it could give Bashir. Chief security minister Wiranto said the government would move Bashir to a prison near his hometown in Solo, Central Java.
However, Michdan said the plan never materialized and Bashir remained in his isolation cell in Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, West Java.