Firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir receives early parole, will be released from prison this week

Abu Bakar Bashir arriving for a court appearance on January 12, 2016. Photo: AFP
Abu Bakar Bashir arriving for a court appearance on January 12, 2016. Photo: AFP

The controversial Indonesian cleric known for being the spiritual leader to Jemaah Islamiyah, the regional terror group blamed for the deadly 2002 Bali bombing, is set to be released from prison this week after receiving early parole with the express permission of President Joko Widodo.

Abu Bakar Bashir, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in  2011 for providing support to a terrorist training camp in Aceh, is scheduled to be released from Gunung Sindur Penitentiary in Bogor, West Java later this week. That’s according to Yusril Ihza Mahendra, a legal advisor to President Jokowi’s re-election campaign.

Yusril, who visited the 81-year-old preacher in jail today, told the media that he had discussed Bashir’s early parole with Jokowi and the president agreed to let the cleric be released within the next few days so he could return to his family home in Solo, Central Java.

“I spoke with Ustadz Abu Bakar Bashir last week and reported to the president and the president is convinced that there are enough reasons to release him. First are the humanitarian considerations, considering that he is 81 years old, sick and in need of care and to be close to his family,” Yusril said as quoted by Okezone.

However, Yusril also justified the controversial cleric’s early parole in a way that makes it sound like Jokowi had political considerations in mind as well.

“This shows the community that it is not true that Pak Jokowi persecutes or criminalizes the ulema (Islamic religious scholars), that is not true at all,” said Yusril, who has represented hardline Islamist groups such as the now banned Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) in the past.

Opposition forces, particularly those from hardline Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), have long accused President Joko Widodo of “criminalizing the ulema” due to the legal troubles faced by some hardline figures such as FPI founder Rizieq Shihab

Yusril said that Bashir would not be allowed to preach in any capacity after his release and that he was advised to just rest and spend time with his family (although he said Bashir would be allowed to take visitors).

Authorities had mulled putting the ailing cleric under house arrest last year but reportedly decided against it over concerns about Bashir potentially spreading his radical ideologies.

Bashir, also co-founder of an infamous Islamic boarding school known for producing militants, was previously jailed over the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, but that conviction was overturned on appeal.


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