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Indonesian Government Reduces Sentences for Bali Bombing Conspirators

Twelve Indonesian prisoners convicted of helping the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings had their sentences reduced in celebration of the country's independence day. Many of the 202 people killed in the attack were foreign tourists, including 88 from Australia. Political experts say the move may further complicate relations between the two nations.

The Indonesian government commuted sentences for 12 people convicted of participating in the 2002 plot to bomb two night clubs in Bali.

Indonesia traditionally hands out sentence reductions on August 17 to honor its independence from the Netherlands.

In 2005, Islamist militant Abu Bakar Bashir's 30-month sentence for taking part in the bombing conspiracy was reduced, sparking protest among Australian citizens and its leaders.

Close to half of the victims in those blasts were from Australia.

The prisoners receiving reductions are serving time on charges such as burglary to fund the attack, and sheltering those directly involved in the conspiracy.

Antony Bergin, research director for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says that despite the relatively minor role the prisoners played, the move will lead Australians to think Indonesia is soft on terrorism.

"I do not think the public in Australia will readily understand that these remissions are part of a normal cycle of remissions given to the Indonesian prisoners. Rather they will be seen as specifically singling out the Bali bombers, and I think that while that may be unfortunate, that will be the political and public reception of this news," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer released a statement indicating frequent appeals to Indonesia to stop automatic sentence reductions for terrorists have not been answered.

Simon Quayle was in the Sari club in October 2002 when a car bomb ripped through the building. He says though he respects Indonesia's justice system, the sentence reductions are frustrating.

"I can understand if they did a magic thing, for example gave some information and it stopped another terrorist attack, and a reward for that is. 'Yes, great, fantastic, well done, and we will reduce your sentence on this independence day.' But if it is just a day, and we want to give these terrorists a reward because it is a significant day - yeah - I do not really like it, I do not really appreciate it, and it is quite disappointing," said Simon Quayle.

The prisoners, who were serving sentences of between five and 16 years, each received a four-month reduction in their penalty. The move means one of the convicted Islamists, Puryanto, was freed immediately.

Three key figures in the Bali attack are on death row and are scheduled to be executed by firing squad later this month.

More than 30 people have been imprisoned in connection with the bombings, most of them linked to the group Jemaah Islamiyah. Abu Bakar Bashir is considered the group's spiritual leader.

About 54,000 prisoners around the country had their sentences reduced.

Among them was Schappelle Corby, an Australian woman convicted of drug smuggling, who had her 20-year sentence reduced by two months. The Corby case also caused friction between Australia and Indonesia, because many Australians thought her sentence was too harsh and believed the young woman's assertion that baggage handlers placed the drugs in her luggage without her knowledge.