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PM says Bashir release is distressing

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the fact that radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir has been freed from jail is distressing for the family and friends of the 88 Australians killed in the Bali bombings.

Bashir was freed from an Indonesian prison early Friday at the expiration of his 15-year sentence on terrorism offences.

He was serving a sentence in relation to funding for a terrorist training camp In Aceh but a conviction in relation to the Bali bombings was overturned in 2006 and no charges in relation to that bombing have stuck.

“This is very distressing to the friends and families of the Australians, the 88 Australians, who were killed in the Bali bombings of 2002 … It’s hard, and it’s gut-wrenching, having spent time with the families of those victims, of that terrible bombing,” Mr Morrison said on Friday.

“We have always called for those who were involved – not just I as Prime Minister, my predecessors of all political persuasions – to face tougher, proportionate and just sentences in these cases. Decisions on sentences, though, as we know, are a matter for the Indonesian justice system. We have to respect the decisions that they take.

“We have made clear through our embassy in Jakarta the concerns we have that such individuals be prevented from further inciting others, and we will continue to follow those sort of issues through.

“They have been released consistent with the Indonesian justice system. That doesn’t make it any easier for any Australian to accept that, ultimately. That those who are responsible for the murder of Australians would now be free. It’s sometimes not a fair world.”

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said it was a difficult day for the families.

“My heart goes out to all those who will be doing it tough today. And I would hope that the Australian Government, I’m sure, are making strong representations to make sure that the closest eye is kept on this bloke to make sure that his activities don’t further the, quite frankly, catastrophic human consequences of his ideological position.”

The 82-year-old was driven out of a prison in Bogor, in West Java, about 5.20am Friday, accompanied by his two sons, a doctor and lawyer.

His release has provoked dismay and anger in Australia from victims’ families and survivors of the bombings.

Bashir’s lawyer, Ahmad Michdan, was with him when he was released. He told AAP that Bashir had been COVID-19 tested and was negative before his release and a full medical check conducted.

“(He) said thank you very much to the prison governor,” Ahmad said.

Bashir is widely believed to have been the spiritual leader of terror group Jemaah Islamiyah at the time it orchestrated the Bali bombings and a string of other terrorist attacks in Indonesia.

Speaking to AAP ahead of the release, Bashir’s son, Abdul Rochim, hit out at Australian government warnings to Indonesia about his release.

“I think it’s too much. Why should they (Australia) intervene in other people’s business,” he said.

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