Widodo sets out rules for extremist’s release, Latest World News - The New Paper

Widodo sets out rules for extremist’s release

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Radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir must declare loyalty to Indonesia

JAKARTA: Indonesia's President said yesterday that a radical Muslim cleric linked to the 2002 Bali bombings would be released from jail only if he pledged loyalty to the state and its ideology, after news he would be freed unconditionally sparked criticism.

President Joko Widodo had declared last week that Abu Bakar Bashir, 81, would be freed on humanitarian grounds, citing his age and poor health.

A legal adviser to the President had said the cleric would be granted unconditional release.

But Mr Widodo said in a statement yesterday it would be a"conditional release", a day after the chief security minister said the decision was being reviewed.

"Conditions have to be fulfilled like loyalty to the unitary state of Indonesia, to the Pancasila. That is one of the very basic conditions," he said.

Convicts eligible for early release are required to pledge loyalty to the state and its secular ideology, known as Pancasila, and not to repeat their crimes. But Bashir's lawyers say he has refused to do that.

Bashir was the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, an Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda blamed for the 2002 bombings of nightclubs on Bali island that killed more than 200 people, most of them tourists, including 88 Australians.

He was convicted in 2010 under anti-terrorism laws for links to militant training camps in Aceh province and jailed for 15 years. Although linked to the Bali attacks and a bombing at Jakarta's Marriott Hotel in 2003, Bashir was never convicted for them and denied those ties.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking before Mr Widodo set out conditions for the release, urged Indonesia not to show him leniency.

"We have been clear about the need to ensure that as part of our joint counter-terrorism efforts … that Abu Bakar Bashir would not be in any position or in any way able to influence or incite anything," Mr Morrison told reporters on Monday.

Mr Widodo has also come under fire at home over the possible release. Critics have accused him of trying to win over religious conservatives ahead of a presidential election set for April 17 in the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

Some members of the ruling coalition, including officials in Mr Widodo's party, fear Bashir's release could alienate moderate Muslim and non-Muslim voters.

"Everyone is asking, 'How can we possibly allow this?'"said an official from Mr Widodo's Democratic Party of Struggle.

"Now it is about how many votes we will lose, not gain."

Most opinion polls have given Mr Widodo a double-digit lead over rival Prabowo Subianto, a retired general who had also contested the presidency in 2014.

Opponents and hardline Islamists have repeatedly attacked Mr Widodo's Islamic credentials. During the 2014 campaign for the presidency, he had to battle false rumours that he was a communist.

Still, some analysts doubted whether releasing Bashir early would win Widodo many conservative voters.

Security and government officials, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said they backed the plan to release Bashir to avoid the risk of him dying as a martyr in jail but felt doing so without conditions was risky. - REUTERS