Indonesia cuts Bali bomb cleric's sentence on independence day

A hardline Islamist cleric had four-and-a-half months cut from his 30-month sentence yesterday for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings.

A hardline Islamist cleric had four-and-a-half months cut from his 30-month sentence yesterday for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings.

The reduction for Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, along with remission for 18 militants convicted of taking part in the attack on two nightclubs that left 202 people dead, followed celebrations for Indonesia's 60th anniversary of independence. The remission for one plotter resulted in him being freed.

Some 53,000 prisoners across Indonesia had their terms cut.

Australia, which lost 88 nationals in the October 12 2002 attack and had lobbied to prevent remission for Ba'asyir, expressed disappointment. Relatives of British victims were also strongly critical.

The three men sentenced to death for the bombings and two others serving life imprisonment were not entitled to remission.

Dedi Sutardi, the warden of the Cipinang prison in Jakarta where Ba'asyir is serving his sentence, said the term had been cut because the cleric, who turned 67 yesterday, was a model prisoner.

"Abu Bakar Ba'asyir deserves remission because he is behaving very well," he said. "All he does in prison is devote himself to religious service."

He predicted Ba'asyir, who has been acquitted of taking part in the attacks and being the spiritual head of the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, would be released in April. Despite the acquittals, many western intelligence agencies believe Ba'asyir was a founder of JI and played a key role in its activities for years.

Muhammad Mahendratta, one of Ba'asyir's lawyers, said the sentence should have been cut by seven months. "It appears that external interference in our legal system prevented [Ba'asyir] receiving the remission he deserved," he told the Guardian. "How would foreigners like it if we started meddling in their legal systems? Granting remission on independence day is part of our system." No one from the justice ministry was available to comment yesterday.

Australia's prime minster, John Howard, was quoted by Australian Associated Press as saying his government would not give up lobbying to keep Ba'asyir behind bars. "If there are any further avenues that we can legitimately pursue we will do so ... " he said.

Alex Braden, the father of Daniel Braden from Brighton who died in the blasts, said: "I think there is a feeling about Ba'asyir, including from ourselves, that he should be incarcerated and shouldn't be given the oxygen of publicity.

Among the thousands of inmates freed yesterday were hundreds of members of the Free Aceh Movement, which end its 29-year insurgency against Jakarta on Monday.


John Aglionby in Jakarta

The GuardianTramp

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