Indonesia Releases Suspected Bali Bombings Mastermind Bashir

On January 7th, Indonesia released suspected Bali bombings mastermind, Abu Bakar Bashir, from prison. In 2011, Bashir, one of the spiritual leaders for the Jemaah Islamiyah, was sentenced to 15 years in prison over links to active extremist groups and terrorist attacks across Indonesia. He was initially imprisoned in 2005 following the 2002 Bali bombings that killed over 200 people. The victims of the 2002 attack included many Australian tourists, 88 of whom were killed. However, he was rapidly let go on appeal. After his following imprisonment in 2011, Bashir has spent the past 10 years serving his sentence for his involvement with the Jemaah Islamiyah. While his 15-year sentence was due to end in 2026, Bashir was released early, angering many people in both Indonesia and Australia.

Regarding the news of Bashir’s early release, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters, “it was very distressing to friends and family of the 88 Australians killed in the Bali bombings.” Adding that the Indonesian Authorities’ decision to release Bashir was “hard and gut wrenching” and stated that Australia had called for “tougher, proportionate, and just sentences” to be carried out against those responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings. According to the Guardian, Scott also said, “decisions on sentencing… are matters for the Indonesian Justice System, and we have to respect the decisions they take… [but] that doesn’t make it any easier for any Australian to accept.”

While Bashir has denied claims of involvement in the Bali attacks, he was deemed among the individuals responsible, due to his connection to the Jemaah Islamiyah, including funding the extremist group. His imprisonment was closely followed by Indonesian and Australians alike, who have both suffered greatly from the terrorist attack. Expectedly, Indonesia’s decision to release Bashir early from his sentence left many Indonesians and Australians hurt and angered. According to the Guardian, the decision stirred “grief and anger among victims nearly 20 years after Indonesia’s worst terror attack.”

Prior to Bashir’s release earlier this month, there have been talks of an early release for the past few years. According to Reuters, “while seeking reelection, President Joko Widodo in January 2019 had considered an early release for Bashir on health grounds, but scrapped the plan after Bashir reportedly declined to pledge allegiance to the Indonesian state ideology.” Additionally, according to the Guardian, there were plans to release Bashir early “on humanitarian grounds”. However, this was met with much backlash in Indonesia and Australia. Bashir has repeatedly refused to “renounce his extremist views in exchange for leniency”. Recently, however, Bashir’s lawyer managed to make a case for an early release considering the current pandemic. The Guardian reported Bashir’s lawyers appealed to Indonesian authority for his release “citing his age and risk of contracting Covid-19” in the incredibly crowded prison conditions.

It is important to note that Bashir, who is now 82, was not released early due to renouncing his extremist views or accepting Indonesia’s state ideology. However, he was released on health grounds due to the Covid-19 pandemic and risk of contracting the virus in Indonesia’s prison system.

Furthermore, according to Bashir’s lawyer, Achmad Michdan, Bashir plans to continue teaching. News of this has especially angered and upset victims of the 2002 bombings, who view Bashir as unchanged. Many are fearful that Bashir will “preach hate and incite violence”. However, Bashir’s lawyer has emphasized that Bashir neither likes violence nor recommends it in his sermons. According to Reuters, there has also been concern that even though Bashir’s involvement with Jemaah Islamiyah has weakened, “extremists may try to associate their activities with him to gain traction and boost their credibility.” Ridlwan Habib, security analyst, said, “Bashir is a senior figure in Indonesia’s jihadist movement, and it’s not impossible that his big name could be used.” Therefore, it is essential that Indonesian authority monitor Bashir and his ties to the Jemaah Islamiyah, as well as, track violence trends in Indonesia.