A leading expert on Indonesian law says President Joko Widodo's decision to release Abu Bakar Bashir was likely an attempt to refute allegations that he is un-Islamic ahead of the country's April election.
The Indonesian government's decision to reconsider the early release of the alleged man behind the 2002 Bali Bombing has nothing to do with Australian backlash, according to a leading expert on Indonesian law.
On Monday, Indonesia's security minister Mr Wiranto announced that there would be a review of Abu Bakar Bashir's planned release - just hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison pleaded with the Indonesian government to "show great respect for Australia in how they manage this issue".But Professor Tim Lindsey, director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the University of Melbourne, told SBS News that both the initial decision to release Bashir and the announcement of the review were likely nothing more than political posturing ahead of the upcoming Indonesian presidential election.
"President Jokowi's campaign has been very anxious to shield him against the allegations of not being serious about Islamic issues that were deployed against him in the last campaign," he said.
"The decision to grant him this release, through a presidential decision that actually overrules the other regulations ... reflects anxiety in the Jokowi camp about Islamic credentials ahead of the election."
He suggested that for President Widodo to be seen as giving in to Australian pressure would be "disastrous" for his presidential campaign, with the Indonesian general election to be held in less than three months.
According to Professor Lindsey, the review announced on Monday shows that efforts to protect President Joko Widodo against claims of being un-Islamic had gone too far.
"I think we may see Jokowi back away from the decision to release Bashir, not because Australia has put pressure on him, but because of the idea of releasing a person involved in terrorist activities that has spent his whole life supporting Islamic revolution to bring down the Islamic republic is simply unacceptable to many senior members of government and the political elite," he said.
Bashir, 81, is widely considered the spiritual leader of terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, which was implicated in the 2002 Bali Bombings, which killed 88 Australians. He was convicted of terrorism charges in 2011 over links to militant training camps and sentenced to 15 years in jail.
His family has been lobbying for his release since 2017, citing his age and deteriorating health.
Last Friday, Mr Widodo announced that Bashir would be released after serving only two-thirds of his sentence due to "humanitarian considerations", in a move considered highly unusual due to the nature of his offence.
"Early release is generally not available for prisoners who have committed offences that threaten the security of the country, for example, terrorism," said Professor Lindsey.
"And here we have somebody who fits into that category and refuses to swear an oath of loyalty to the Indonesian republic."
Family and friends of Australians killed in the Bali bombings were quick to slam the decision.
"Stunned that he is about to be released," said Jan Laczynski, an Australian who lost five friends in the bombing of the Sari Club in Bali and narrowly avoided being at the venue himself.
"Truly devastating news as effectively he gets on with his life whilst everyone else suffers from seeing him walk out of jail," he said.
Later this week, former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama - also known by his Hakka Chinese name Ahok - is also scheduled to be released from prison after completing a two-year sentence for blasphemy.
Mr Basuki, who is a Christian, had previously served as deputy to Mr Widodo when he was governor of Jakarta.
Professor Lindsey said it was likely the Bashir release was an attempt to "counteract the damaging effect" of Mr Basuki's release, as opponents of Mr Widodo had often used his association with Mr Basuki to tar him as un-Islamic.
- with Reuters, AAP