updated 8/17/2005 4:51:02 AM ET 2005-08-17T08:51:02

A militant cleric and 17 others convicted in the 2002 bombings that killed 202 people on the resort island of Bali have received sentence reductions of several months to mark Indonesia’s independence day, wardens said Wednesday.

Cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual head of the al-Qaida-linked terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, was originally given a 30-month prison sentence for his role in the bombings, which killed many Australian tourists.

On Wednesday he was given a 4½-month sentence reduction, said Dedi Sutardi, the chief warden at Cipinang Prison in Jakarta, which means he could be released from prison in June 2006.

Seventeen other Bali bombers, who were originally sentenced up to 16 years, received three-month reductions, said Bromo Setiono, chief warden at the Kerobokan jail in Bali’s capital Denpasar.

It is an Indonesian tradition to cut jail terms on holidays for some of the country’s 105,000 inmates who exhibit good behavior, with only those sentenced to death or life in prison excluded.

“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.”

Many people in Australia consider the Bali bombings as tantamount to an attack on their own country, and the decision to cut the sentences — especially Bashir’s — was expected to draw loud protests.

The 66-year-old Muslim cleric, who is bitterly anti-Western, was convicted in March of conspiracy in the near simultaneous bombings on two crowded nightclubs. The Supreme Court recently rejected his appeal.

Jemaah Islamiyah is suspected in several other deadly attacks, including the 2003 J.W. Marriott hotel bombing that killed 12 people, and the September 2004 Australian Embassy bombing that killed 11.

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