Jakarta – The planned release of Abu Bakar Bashir has turned into a polemic with the government still vacillating about whether or not to release the leader of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI).
It all began on Friday January 18 when constitutional expert Yusril Ihza Mahendra, speaking as the legal advisor to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, visited the Gunung Sindur penitentiary in Bogor, West Java, to meet with Bashir.
He claimed that Widodo had delegated him to secure a conditional release for Bashir. One of his considerations was on humanitarian grounds.
Mahendra said that Bashir is entitled to obtain a conditional release because he behaved well while in prison and as of mid-December 2018 had already served two-thirds of his sentence.
In 2011 Bashir was sentenced to 15 years in jail by the South Jakarta District Court for organising a terrorist training camp in Indonesia's northern-most province of Aceh.
One of the obstacles faced by Mahendra in securing Bashir's release is a pledge of loyalty to the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI). Bashir is unwilling to do this.
Mahendra however claims that this has been resolved saying that Bashir can still be released because he has made pledge of loyalty to Islam. The state ideology of Pancasila, said Mahendra, is in accord with and does not conflict with Islam.
Widodo has also confirmed that he wants to give a conditional release to Bashir for the same reason as stated by Mahendra, that the humanitarian aspect was a consideration.
But Bashir's chances of obtaining a conditional release appear to be fading. Coordinating Minister for Security, Politics and Legal Affairs Wiranto said that the government will study several issues first before giving the founder of the Jamaah Islamiyah group a conditional release.
The aspects being reconsidered, according to Wiranto, are the issue of ideology, politics, the NKRI and so forth. Government agency heads will discuss the matter more fully.
On Tuesday January 22, Widodo again spoke out on the issue. He said that Bashir must still give a pledge of loyalty to the NKRI if he wants' a conditional release. Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu and the Minister for Justice and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly both emphasised a similar point.
Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) Coordinator Yati Andriyani believes that the "obscene language" surrounding the polemic over Bashir's conditional release flows from Widodo's position on the issue. Andriyani said that there is a political aroma behind Widodo's vacillation.
Andriyani believes that Widodo is concerned about not getting enough votes in the 2019 presidential election. This anxiety is pushing Widodo to try to free Bashir without looking at the finer details of existing regulations, in this case Government Regulation Number 99/2012.
The regulation requires that terrorist convicts pledge their loyalty to the NKRI and Pancasila if they want a conditional release after serving two-thirds of their sentence. Based on Mahendra's remarks however, Widodo does not object to Bashir just pledging an oath to Islam, and not Pancasila.
"His (Widodo's) negligence impacts upon his indecisiveness. He has a political motivation which is making him careless and wanting to accelerate [the process]", said Andriyani when contacted by CNN Indonesia on Tuesday evening.
In addition to this, said Andriyani, now that a number of problems have emerged, it demonstrates Widodo's weakness. "In the end it is now being reevaluated", she said.
Andriyani believes that taking a position for political reasons can have an influence on a president's prudence, particularly since Widodo has again stepped forwards as a candidate in the presidential election (pilpres) as the incumbent.
Andriyani said that this has now being confirmed. Moreover, according to Andriyani, it has been revealed that Widodo miss-coordinated with related ministers.
"Pak [Mr] Jokowi, don't forget. At the moment you are still the head of state and the head of the government. Not just a contestant in the 2019 pilpres", said Andriyani. "The justification of humanitarian grounds is quite plausible but the legal requirements can't be side stepped".
Abandoned by voters
Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) political observer (LIPI) Ali Munhanif says that actually the government has for some time been considering a conditional release for Bashir. And of course there are humanitarian grounds because Bashir is already old and has becoming increasingly fragile.
"And there is the importance of avoiding a terrorist leader dying in jail. Because this would change Bashir's image from that of a convicted criminal to a martyr", said Munhanif.
Munhanif agrees with the assumption that Bashir's followers will soften their position if their esteemed leader pledges an oath of loyalty to NKRI and Pancasila. Nevertheless, Bashir is a legendary Islamic leader and has many fanatic followers.
It would be a big mistake on Widodo's part however if he releases Bashir without a pledge of loyalty to NKRI and Pancasila because the public will question Widodo's commitment to fighting terrorism in Indonesia.
Moreover, up until now Widodo has been seen as quite consistent. For example, said Munhanif, in closing down radical websites, disbanding the radical Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) and promoting religious moderation.
Munhanif believes that Widodo will in fact be abandoned by Muslim voters if he frees Bashir without a pledge of loyalty to the NKRI, particularly those who have yet to make a choice or undecided voters.
Munhanif says that Muslim voters are becoming more enlightened although he concedes that there are many groups who yearn for Islamic law. But, they will not like it if space is given to radicalism such as facilitating Bashir's conditional release without a pledge of loyalty to the NKRI.
"It will further undermine [the support of] moderate Muslim voters, non-ideological voters, even more will defect. It is here that Jokowi has to be careful in playing the radicalism card for electoral interests", said Munhanif.
It would be better, said Munhanif, if Widodo is not tempted to free Bashir unconditionally just for the sake of electoral interests. (bmw)
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Aroma Politik di Balik Tarik Ulur Pembebasan Ba'asyir".]