Jakarta – In what is widely regarded as a positive development in Indonesia's war against terror, the government has decided not to cut convicted terrorist and Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir's jail sentence to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. His name was not on the list of 1,500 inmates in Jakarta'sCipinang prison who received sentence reductions, which are granted to prisoners on Indonesia's Independence Day and major religious holidays.
Bashir, whom many foreign governments have identified as the spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terror network, was sentenced to jail for 30 months in March for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings. But in August, he was given a 4 ½-month reduction – a move that upset nations leading the war against terror, such asAustralia and the United States. Australia had also called on the Indonesian government not to grant anymore remissions to Bashir after Bali was hit again by terrorist bombs on Oct 1.
The decision not to cut Bashir's jail term further came as a surprise to many since the government had hinted otherwise earlier. Minister of Justice and Human Rights Hamid Awaluddin said last week that Bashir might have his jail term cut for the second time due to this good conduct in jail.
However, on Nov 3, Mr Hamid, when asked about the sentence remission, said: "No, he (Bashir) didn't get it." This means that Bashir would have to stay in jail until next June.
While the government's decision will be welcomed by other countries, observers said the move would upset hardline groups within Indonesia and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would be accused of giving in to Australia's demands.
Bashir's lawyer Mahendradata said the cleric suspected pressure from Canberra might be behind the decision. "He (Bashir) said he would accept whatever decision with an open heart, but he regretted that Australia interfered in our justice system."
Minister Hamid denied that the decision was due to foreign pressure. "There has been a misperception, as if the absence of a remission for Bashir is linked to pressure from the United States or Australia in relation to a number of bomb blasts in Indonesia.
"If that is the judgement of people, it is clearly wrong because many prisoners in cases of bomb explosions, such as the Bali and Makassar bombings, were granted remissions," he was quoted as saying by Kompas newspaper.
* Foreign pressure 'not a factor in Bashir decision' (The Straits Times, Nov 7)
* Ba'asyir to serve full jail term, Tommy gets further time cut (The Jakarta Post, Nov 5)
* Indonesia refuses to cut Bashir's jail term (The Straits Times, Nov 4)