Canberra: Australia’s prime minister said on Tuesday he would be disappointed if radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir were released from prison early and urged Indonesia to show respect for the victims of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that the firebrand preacher inspired. Indonesia’s top security minister, Wiranto, said on Monday that Indonesian President Joko Widodo had asked him to coordinate a review of all aspects of the planned release of the 80-year-old cleric following domestic and international criticism.
Australia has been in top-level discussions with the Indonesia since last week when the decision was announced to release Bashir, the spiritual leader of bombers who attacked nightclubs on Bali island and that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would protest if Bashir were released early as planned, after serving nine years of a 15-year sentence.
“I would obviously be very disappointed about that – like other Australians would – and will register that disappointment and quite strong feelings about that,” Morrison told 4CA Radio in the Australian city of Cairns. “We don’t want this character able to go out there and incite the killing of Australians and Indonesians, preaching a doctrine of hate,” Morrison added. Morrison told Indonesia “respect must be shown for the lives of those who are lost.” Widodo on Friday said he had agreed to release Bashir on humanitarian grounds. The announcement came during campaigning for a presidential election due in April in which opponents of Widodo have tried to discredit him as insufficiently Islamic.
Australian survivors of the Bali attacks and victims’ relatives and friends urged against Bashir’s release. Phil Britten was captain of a Perth-based Australian Rules football club and was with 19 teammates in a Bali nightclub when a bomb exploded, killing seven club members. “Seven of my friends died, they don’t get the chance to live out the rest of their lives in peace. Why should he (Bashir)? I think it’s just appalling,” Britten told The West Australian newspaper.
Australian Peter Hughes suffered burns to 50 percent of his body when a bomb detonated in another Bali nightclub. “He probably deserves the death penalty more so than the guys that actually did it themselves,” Hughes said of Bashir. “I believe he was totally responsible.” Bashir had previously been considered ineligible for parole because of his refusal to renounce radical beliefs. His family had requested his release since 2017 because of his age and deteriorating health.
The firebrand cleric was arrested almost immediately after the 2002 Bali bombings. But prosecutors were unable to prove a string of terrorism-related allegations, and Bashir 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.