JAKARTA (Reuters) – Abu Bakar Bashir, the radical Muslim cleric and alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, will be granted early release from jail on humanitarian grounds, Indonesia’s president said on Friday.
Bashir, 81, who is considered the spiritual leader of the Islamist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), was convicted in 2010 under anti-terrorism laws for links to militant training camps in Aceh province and jailed for 15 years.
President Joko Widodo, who is seeking re-election in April, has been criticised by opponents who question his Islamic credentials and accuse him of backing the “criminalisation” of clerics.
“The first reason is humanitarian. He is elderly and his health is also a consideration,” Widodo told reporters, according to a statement from the social affairs ministry.
Widodo also cited security concerns, but he did not elaborate.
A legal adviser in Widodo’s campaign team, Yusril Mahendra, said he had lobbied the president for Bashir’s release.
“This shows to the public that it is not correct that Jokowi persecutes or criminalises clerics,” Mahendra was quoted by Indonesia media as saying. Jokowi is the president’s nickname.
Scores of the more than 200 people killed in the 2002 bombings of Bali nightclubs were Australian and Canberra has previously urged against leniency for Bashir.