Australia urges Indonesia against showing Bali bombing cleric leniency

But clemency for radical cleric would help mend fences between hardliners and President Widodo

Ailing radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, center, arrives for medical treatment at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, March 1, 2018. Bashir who was the spiritual leader of the Bali bombers and the force behind a jihadist training camp in 2010 has been transferred from prison to the hospital. The octogenarian cleric suffers from a host of medical problem including chronically weak blood circulation. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
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Australia on Saturday urged Indonesia against any leniency toward the ideological leader of the Bali bombers as the government considers house arrest or other forms of clemency for the ailing radical cleric who is now in prison.

Security minister Wiranto, who goes by one name, said on Friday that a meeting of security ministers and police will make a recommendation on Abu Bakar Bashir's treatment to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

"Clemency, pardon, house arrest or just hospital treatment. It will be discussed in the near future and will be reported to the president," said Mr Wiranto.

Bashir, who turns 80 in August, was treated in a Jakarta hospital on Thursday for pooling of blood in the legs, a common condition in the elderly known as chronic venous insufficiency, and later returned to prison.

Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said on Thursday that the government plans to place Bashir under house arrest so he can be cared for by his family or transfer him to a prison near his hometown, Solo in Central Java, according to local media.

His numerous sympathisers hope Mr Jokowi will grant him a permanent release due to his poor health, a move that would help mend fences between hard-line Muslims and Mr Jokowi ahead of a presidential election in 2019 but alarm allies such as the United States and Australia. Mr Jokowi's approval ratings remain high with the broader Indonesian public.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's office on Saturday described Bashir as the mastermind behind the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreigners including 88 Australians.

Bishop's office said in a statement that Australians expected justice to continue to be served to "the full extent that Indonesian law allows."


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"Abu Bakar Bashir should never be allowed to incite others to carry other future attacks against innocent civilians," the statement added.

Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 for supporting a military-style training camp for extremists.

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

Mr Jokowi's spokesman, Johan Budi, said the president will review the case, and house arrest is "possible under the law."

He said a suggestion to pardon Bashir came from Indonesian Ulema Council chairman Ma'ruf Amin and would require Bashir to apply for clemency.

That appears unlikely as it would involve Bashir recognising secular authority. After being sentenced in 2011, he said he rejected the conviction because it was based on "infidel" law.