JAKARTA -- The Indonesian government reduced prison sentences yesterday for 19 people, including the alleged spiritual head of a group linked to Al Qaeda, who were convicted in the Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people. One other person was freed.
The reductions were met with dismay in Australia, home to most of the victims of the 2002 attacks.
Abu Bakar Bashir, purported head of the group Jemaah Islamiyah, was sentenced to 30 months for his role in the 2002 attacks. His sentence was reduced by 4 1/2 months, said Dedi Sutardi, chief warden at Cipinang Prison in Jakarta. The reduction, ordered on Bashir's 67th birthday, means he could be released in June 2006.
Many in Australia consider the Bali bombings tantamount to an attack on their country.
The Australian ambassador to Indonesia, David Ritchie, spoke with Indonesian officials but was told that nothing could be done to reverse the reductions, Prime Minister John Howard said.
''If there are any further avenues that we can legitimately pursue we will do so, but it should be borne in mind that all countries have a certain independence when it comes to the penal and justice system," Howard said in Sydney.
The other 18 prisoners, all of them sentenced to up to 16 years, were given three-month reductions, according to Bromo Setiono, chief warden at Kerobokan jail in Bali's capital, Denpasar, and Paulus Sugeng, a national official.
No information was available about the freed inmate.
It is an Indonesian tradition to reduce jail terms on holidays for some of the country's 105,000 inmates who exhibit good behavior.
Yesterday was Indonesian Independence Day, marking the day in 1945 when President Sukarno declared independence from the Dutch. Only those sentenced to death or life in prison are excluded from the reductions in prison terms.
''This is a basic right of all prisoners in Indonesia, including Bashir," said Mohammad Mahendratta, a lawyer representing the militant cleric.
''Here we consider prison sentences as a way to rehabilitate inmates -- not as revenge."
But an Australian, Brian Deegan, whose 21-year-old son was killed in the blasts, called the decision ''disgraceful."
The sentence reduction for Bashir ''just does not reflect the gravity of the crime, and secondly it does not reflect any governmental action to defeat terrorism" in Indonesia, Deegan said.