The Jakarta Post
Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin has asked the Indonesian people to forgive firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, a terror convict believed to have been responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings.
He further called on the public support President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s decision to release the cleric, who was once seen as the most influential jihadi ideologue in Southeast Asia.
“Every religion teaches us to forgive even the sinful ones. [Ba’asyir]’s condition has weakened because of old age and illness, so let us forgive him,” Lukman said on Saturday as quoted by Antara, adding that the convict had served two-thirds of his prison sentence.
Ba'asyir's age, the minister said, was the primary reason why he supported his release.
"He's really old, very old," he said.
With Jokowi’s approval, Ba’asyir is slated to be released from Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, West Java, on Thursday. It is unclear if Jokowi granted him a pardon or merely approved a request for a conditional release.
The 81-year-old cleric, known as the spiritual leader of hard-line organization Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), has been in prison for eight years after being sentenced to 15 years by the South Jakarta District Court in 2011. The court found him guilty of funding a military training camp for terrorists in Aceh.
Ba’asyir was also convicted for being involved in the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people. However, in 2006, the Supreme Court accepted his case review petition and acquitted him of all charges.
Jokowi’s decision came only months before the April presidential election, sparking speculation that the move was politically motivated.
Yusril Ihza Mahendra, a lawyer of for Jokowi-M’aruf Amin campaign, was quick to dismiss the speculation, saying the President’s decision had been purely based on humanitarian reasons, given Ba’asyir’s old age and deteriorating health.
“Jokowi said he was very concerned about Ba’asyir’s condition and therefore asked me to examine his release, start a dialogue and meet him at the prison,” Yusril said.
He said the cleric would return to his hometown in Surakarta, Central Java, after his release and live with his son.
Indonesia's largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), meanwhile, approved the move to free Ba’asyir from prison and asked the public to respect the decision.
“We appreciate President Jokowi for his decision to release [Ba’asyir] based on humanitarian reasons,” NU secretary-general Helmy Faishal Zaini said separately as reported by Antara news agency.
Helmy further said the decision could serve as reconciliation to reduce political tension among voters ahead of the presidential election. (vny)