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Indonesia reverses course on plan to free radical cleric

January 22, 2019
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FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2016, file photo, radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir waves at his supporters after his appeal hearing at the local district court in Cilacap, Central Java, Indonesia. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, he would be disappointed if Bashir were released from prison early and urged Indonesia to show respect for the victims of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that the firebrand preacher inspired. Indonesia's top security minister, Wiranto, said on Monday that Indonesian President Joko Widodo had asked him to coordinate a review of all aspects of the planned release of the 80-year-old cleric following domestic and international criticism. (AP Photo/Agus Fitrah, File)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia’s president said Tuesday that an elderly Islamic cleric who inspired the Bali bombers and other extremists won’t be released from prison unless he renounces radicalism, backing down from plans to free him without conditions.

President Joko Widodo said Abu Bakar Bashir, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011, must fulfil conditions such as loyalty to the state and the national ideology to be eligible for release.

Bashir, 80, insists he is only answerable to God and that Indonesia should be governed by Islamic rather than civil law.

“Abu Bakar Bashir is already old and his health is also deteriorating. You can imagine if we as children see our parents sick,” Widodo told reporters.

“However, we also have a legal system here. There are legal mechanisms that we must go through. This is parole, not pure release, but conditional release, so the conditions must be fulfilled first,” he said.

Widodo on Friday said he had agreed to free Bashir on humanitarian grounds.

The announcement came during campaigning for a presidential election due in April in which opponents of Widodo have tried to discredit him as insufficiently Islamic.

But on Monday, as domestic and international criticism mounted, the government announced a review of his release.

The 2002 Bali bombings killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Indonesia’s government to show respect to the Bali bombing victims, which included numerous Indonesians.

“We don’t want this character able to go out there and incite the killing of Australians and Indonesians, preaching a doctrine of hate,” Morrison said.

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