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Australia to Oppose Radical Cleric's Early Release from Jail

Australia will ask Indonesia not to reduce the jail sentence of a radical Muslim cleric for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings. Abu Bakar Bashir was jailed in March for two-and-a-half years for instigating the attacks. But the cleric could have his sentence reduced as prisoners across Indonesia are granted leniency to mark Independence Day.

Earlier this month Indonesia's Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Bashir to overturn his 30-month prison term for conspiracy in the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 202, including 88 Australians.

But his jail term could be reduced by five months in a traditional amnesty to celebrate Indonesia's Independence Day on Wednesday.

Bashir is the alleged spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a radical Southeast Asian group,

blamed for the Bali attack and a string of other bombings.

In March, Canberra expressed disappointment when Bashir received what officials said was a 'lenient sentence'.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Canberra vigorously opposes any move to cut the cleric's time behind bars.

"We wouldn't want to see his already rather short sentence reduced, and our ambassador is taking this matter up with the Indonesians," he said. "So, we'll get a report back from him in time but the ambassador will be talking with the Indonesian attorney-general and the justice minister about this."

In a letter of protest sent to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the leader of South Australia state Premier Mike Rann said reducing Bashir's sentence would be "an insult" to the relatives of those who died in the Bali blasts.

Mr. Rann insisted a decision to free Bashir early would "not reflect well" on Indonesia's legal system or Jakarta's resolve in fighting extremism.

Wirawan Adnan, one of Bashir's lawyers, says while a reduction in the prison term would be welcome, his client maintains his innocence and has never asked for leniency.

"We never filed for clemency. For presidential pardon, if they're going to grant it anyway, it's without our request. …He refuses to beg for presidential pardon because by doing so, it means that admitting to the guilt," said Mr. Adnan.

Nineteen of the 24 convicted Bali bombers stand to have their sentences cut by up to seven months along with more than 50,000 other prisoners as Indonesia celebrates its 60th anniversary.

However, three of the Bali bombers who have been sentenced to death and two others jailed for life are not eligible.