Almost two decades after the Bali bombings left Thiolina Ferawati Marpaung with permanent eye injuries, news that one of the masterminds could be released early has caused fresh trauma.
Indonesia’s latest reduction to Umar Patek’s prison sentence – revealed last week by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and confirmed by AFP – means the bomber could be released on parole before the island marks the 20th anniversary of the attacks in October.
That is a galling prospect for survivors of the attack, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
“It is not that I don’t respect other people’s rights, but he has hurt the survivors and families with his evil and inhumane acts,” Marpaung told AFP by phone from Denpasar, the resort island’s biggest city.
The smell of smoke triggers vivid memories of the blasts that sent shards of broken glass tearing into her eyes, Marpaung said.
Patek – a member of an Al Qaeda-affiliated group who was captured in the same Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed – should be kept locked up, she said.
“Please let him serve what he deserves as a terror convict, not like a chicken thief whom we can easily forgive,” the 47-year-old said.
But Indonesia says Patek is giving up his extremist beliefs after completing a deradicalisation programme.
He was granted a sentence reduction on August 17 because he had served two-thirds of his 20-year prison term and shown progress towards reform, said Teguh Wibowo, spokesperson of the Law and Human Rights Ministry office in East Java.
“He has dutifully undergone a deradicalisation programme and behaves well in the prison,” Wibowo said, referring to Indonesia’s rehabilitation scheme to make terror convicts abandon extremism and pledge loyalty to the state.
The attacks on a nightclub and bar were the deadliest in Indonesian history and led to a crackdown on extremism in the country, which has the largest Muslim population in the world.
Tied side-by-side to wooden posts on a small prison island, the attackers were executed by firing squad in 2008 after a years-long probe.
Patek was found to have made the bombs used in the assault on Bali, a Hindu island popular with foreign tourists.
He was captured with a $1 million bounty on his head after nearly a decade on the run.
Prosecutors only sought a life sentence for the 52-year-old on a charge of premeditated murder because he showed remorse during his 2012 trial.
Any release from prison must be approved by Indonesia’s Ministry of Justice.
For survivors of the attack the thought of him leaving prison and living a normal life is difficult to bear.
“Deep down in my heart, I cannot accept it but I am trying to,” said Chusnul Chotimah, another survivor who suffered severe burns that have left scars across her face and body.
Australia has also been angered by the news of Patek’s sentence reduction.
The country lost 88 of its citizens in the attacks, the most of any of the 21 countries whose nationals were killed.
Albanese said he had nothing but “contempt” and disgust for Patek’s actions, saying his early release would only renew distress and trauma for the victims’ grieving families.
But Chotimah met with Patek’s relatives and said she learned they had also suffered from the tragedy he helped to commit.
The 52-year-old is trying to make peace with what happened to her, despite the news of Patek’s potential release before the anniversary of the day that changed her life.
“The longer I keep the grudge, the more aching my heart is,” she said.