Lawyer for radical Indonesian cleric says he will be freed

January 18, 2019 - 4:41 am

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A lawyer for the ailing radical cleric who inspired the Bali bombers says the Indonesian government will release him from prison next week.

The lawyer, Muhammad Mahendradatta, said Friday the decision to release 80-year-old Abu Bakar Bashir was made on humanitarian grounds.

"We have confirmation that President Joko Widodo has agreed to release our client Abu Bakar Bashir," he told The Associated Press. "We haven't had the exact date of his release, but because Bashir badly needs serious health care the release will be carried out no later than next week."

The announcement comes during campaigning for a presidential election due in April in which opponents of Widodo have tried to discredit him as insufficiently Islamic.

Also due to be released from prison next week is the former governor of Jakarta, a Widodo ally and minority Christian who was toppled by a conservative Islamic movement in 2016 and subsequently sentenced to two years in prison on blasphemy charges.

The 2002 bombings on the popular Indonesian tourist island of Bali by al-Qaida-affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah militants killed 202 people, many of them foreigners including dozens of Australians.

Australia urged Indonesia last March against any leniency toward Bashir when the government was considering house arrest and other forms of clemency.

Mahendradatta said he wanted the release to be without any conditions, enabling Bashir to meet supporters and give sermons.

However, another Bashir lawyer, Yusril Ihza Mahendra, said the cleric accepted conditions and "was willing not to do anything other than rest and to be close to family," according to Indonesian news site Tempo.

The firebrand cleric was arrested almost immediately after the Bali bombings. But prosecutors were unable to prove a string of terrorism-related allegations. He was instead sentenced to 18 months in prison for immigration violations.

In 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for supporting a military-style training camp for Islamic militants.

The 2002 bombings were a turning point in Indonesia's battle against violent extremists, making heavy security a norm in big cities and forging closer counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S. and Australia.

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