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If You're Looking For Justice, Don't Look To Indonesia

There he was grinning broadly. Tucking into a lavish lunch with powerful supporters.

In prison.

Abu Bakar Bashir is having a good laugh.

In recent days he has been described as "washed up" and "pathetic".

Don't be fooled. At 80, this unrelenting extremist remains as wily and manipulative as ever.

Bashir has effortlessly played Indonesia's president Joko Widodo. He has turned his early release from jail, expected this week, into another opportunity to grandstand and reinforce his Muslims-only ideology.

Here's how.

Every Indonesian prisoner being considered for parole must pledge to honour the five fundamental principles of the Indonesian nation.

No signed pledge, no release.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo. Photo: AAP

The five principles are known collectively as Pancasila. The first of them is a promise to believe in "the One and Only God."  But modern Indonesia's founding father, Sukarno, deliberately left undefined which particular God that might be. Minority, non-Muslim religions could interpret it in their own way, allowing a diversity of religions to co-exist.

Bashir, however, is having none of it.

When talk of his early release gathered pace, he announced he would stay in prison rather than concede any other religion's right to exist.

Suddenly, President Joko was facing defiance from the very man he was trying to spring out of jail. Having announced the release plan, would he back down and look indecisive? Or would he bow to the will of the mullah and look weak.

Joko buckled. He used his unique power to grant an exemption for Bashir so he could be released without signing the loyalty pledge.

Abu Bakar Bashir has never repented for his crimes. He is, in the truest sense of the word, remorseless.

Indonesian police and rescuers work at the site of a huge bomb blast as they remove bodies in Bali. At least 182 died after two separate bombings.  Photo: Getty

And now, not only will he leave prison early. He will do it entirely on his own terms.

It is the President who has been humiliated.

It is still hard to believe how much pain has been caused by this perpetually grinning, frail old man.

He was first imprisoned in the 1970s under Suharto. In the 1980s and 90s, fearing further arrests, he took his cult into exile in Malaysia.

Returning after Suharto fell, Bashir merely stepped up his hate preaching against the "maggots" of the West. He offered his personal allegiance to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. As late as 2014, from his prison cell, he pledged himself to the terrorist Islamic State and its self-styled caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

His Jemaah Islamiya followers famously carried out the Bali bombings, with its 202 deaths including 88 Australians. (Bashir publicly accused Israel and the CIA, even after his foot soldiers pleaded guilty). But there were so many other atrocities now largely forgotten -- including the suicide car bomb that targeted the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

He sure does hate Australians.

Carnage after the Bali bombings with many foreigners killed when a bomb exploded in a popular nightclub on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. Photo: Getty

His most recent conviction was for organising terrorist training camps in Aceh, northern Sumatra.

When he does finally emerge from jail this week, it is a fair bet he'll be grinning. And a small, unbending minority among Indonesia's 250 million Muslims will be grinning with him.

For those many people -- Australians and others -- who have suffered so greatly from the evil he has done, it will be among the worst of days.