Umar Patek, the militant bombmaker responsible for creating the devices used to kill 202 people in Bali in 2002, has been released from jail after serving just half of his 20-year sentence.
The 55-year-old Indonesian national, whose real name is Hisyam bin Alizein, was captured in Pakistan after an international manhunt lasting almost a decade in 2011. He was due to be released in 2030, but will now remain on parole until that time.
The Australian government has been lobbying our northern neighbour hard against his early release, which was announced in August, just two months before the 20th-anniversary commemorations of the attack.
88 Australians were killed in the two blasts that hit the Sari Club and Paddy’s nightclub in Kuta. Multiple conspirators were captured and sentenced by Indonesia, with the help of international police efforts. The men were all part of Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group dedicated to the establishment of an Islamic state in Southeast Asia. They have also been tied to a series of bombings across Indonesia on Christmas Eve in 2000.
Other members of the group including Ali Amrozi, Imam Samudra, and Muklas were executed by the firing squad in 2009 but Patek avoided the death penalty. He played down his role in the attack, claimed he never meant to target Westerners – only Israelis-, and professed regret for his actions.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese responded to the Indonesian government’s decision to release Patak by saying the impact would be “devastating” on the families of the victims of the attack.
“They are going through a trauma in memory of their lost loved ones,” he said.
Why Was the Bali Bombmaker Released Early?
The Indonesian legal system often gives reductions in sentences for good behaviour on national holidays. Earlier this year, Patek received a five-month reduction in his sentence for Indonesia’s Independence Day, making him eligible for parole in August. In total, he has received a 33-month reduction in his sentence during his time in jail.
Indonesian officials have previously said that it would be unlikely that Patak would receive parole, as early release is not usually given to people convicted of terrorism charges.
However, Indonesian authorities have said that Patek has met all of the requirements for parole and that good behaviour in prison has reduced the length of his sentence and justified his release. They are particularly keen for him to work with them in their de-radicalisation programme which Patak has previously said he is committed to.
“The special requirements that have been met by Umar Patek are that he has participated in the de-radicalisation coaching program,” Ministry of Law and Human Rights spokesperson Rika Aprianti said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Aprianti also said that Patek has “shown changes” after participating in a deradicalisation programme. “Most importantly, he has pledged allegiance to the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia,” she said.
“God willing, after I am released I want to help the government in the deradicalisation program for the people, especially the Millennials because Millennials are the ones who are easily [influenced] by the radicalism virus,” Patek said in a parole interview in August.
Patek’s friend and former Jemaah Islamiyah member, Ali Fauzi, runs a deradicalisation foundation in East Java and said that he hopes the pair can work together to turn young people away from terrorism.
“My big hope with the release of Umar Patek [is] many people out there will be saved from terrorist seduction,” he said.
Survivors and the families of people killed or injured are sceptical, however. Brad McIlroy, who was 19 at the time and in Bali with the Kingsley Football Club, lost seven friends in the attack. He described the decision as a “real kick in the guts.”
Another survivor, Antony Svilicich, described the decision as “a joke” and the poor timing as “rubbing salt into the wounds of all the survivors.”
“I can’t see how you can be deradicalised after spending just 10 years in jail,” he told ABC. “Once you’re a terrorist, you can’t change and this guy should have been spending 40 years in jail for what he’s done.”
Patek will have to report to a parole office once a week, later moving to once a month. As long as he continues to report and does not commit any further crimes, he will be allowed to stay in the community and released from parole in April 2030.