INDONESIA: Sunday School teachers imprisoned

Earlier this month, Indonesian judges sentenced three women (pictured left) to three years in prison for allowing Muslim children to attend a Christian Sunday school programme.

Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun received the sentence after judges found them guilty of violating the Child Protection Act of 2002, which forbids ‚Äúdeception, lies or enticement‚Äù causing a child to convert to another religion. The maximum sentence for violation of the Act is five years in prison and a fine of 100 million rupiah (‚€8,000 approx.).

 

The Sunday school teachers had instructed the children to get permission from their parents before attending the programme, and those who did not have permission were asked to go home, according to Jeff Hammond of Bless Indonesia Today, a Christian foundation operating out of Jakarta. None of the children had converted to Christianity.

When the verdict was announced, the courtroom crowd erupted with shouts of “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”).

A source who spoke with Zakaria by phone as the three women were waiting to be taken into the courtroom for the verdict said she was calm and confident. Zakaria said the situation did not look hopeful but that some day, “in God’s time,” all three women would “walk free from the prison.”

The three women, described by friends as “ordinary housewives,” were relieved that they had not been given the maximum five-year prison sentence. All three, however, were devastated at the prospect of being separated from their children, who range from 6 to 19 years of age.

As they have done throughout the trial, Islamic extremists made murderous threats both inside and outside the courtroom. Hammond said several truckloads of extremists arrived; one brought a coffin to bury the accused if they were found innocent.

“The ladies, witnesses and judges were constantly under the threats of violence from hundreds of Islamic radicals who threatened to kill the three ladies, witnesses, pastors, missionaries and even the judges if the women were acquitted” (Compass)

INDONESIA: Rinaldy Damanik released early

Rev. Rinaldy Damanik walked free from his cell at the Maesa Detention Center in Palu, Sulawesi, on November 9 after authorities granted him an early release.

A smiling Rinaldy greeted the small crowd of friends and reporters who had gathered outside the prison and expressed thanks to those who had campaigned on his behalf during the imprisonment.

 

Before his arrest on what many believe were false charges, Rinaldy worked tirelessly to provide relief for Muslim and Christian victims of the sectarian violence that erupted on Sulawesi island in the late 1990s. He was also a signatory of the Malino Peace Accord, signed in December 2001.

The breakthrough for Damanik’s early release came in August this year, when a respected Muslim cleric, Idrus R. al Habsy, befriended Rinaldy after the cleric’s son, Husen, met Rinaldy in prison. When Idrus learned that Rinaldy had worked tirelessly to promote peace, the elderly cleric became a staunch advocate for his release.

On August 20, Idrus sent a letter of appeal to the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, asking that Rinaldy be freed as he was a man of good character. Observers say this letter was vital in securing an early release date.

It seems other Muslims are also supportive of Rinaldy. Compass received a letter from a Muslim refugee in late October, expressing the belief that Rinaldy was innocent. The letter, translated from the original Indonesian, read in part; “I myself am one of the victims amongst the thousands of the Poso violence who were evacuated by Rinaldy Damanik with his Crisis Center. Even though we differed in religion, their hearts and humanitarianism were extraordinary.”

The letter also referred to Rinaldy’s election as president of the Synod of the Christian Church of Central Sulawesi (GKST) on October 17 while he was still imprisoned: “This election also testifies that Rev. Rinaldy Damanik is innocent and greatly beloved by the people.”

Meanwhile, a press release from Open Doors on November 9 said Damanik planned to continue his work with the GSKT Crisis Center. “When I leave, I will continue to do exactly what I was doing before I was arrested,” he told an Open Doors staff member.

He also expressed thanks for support provided by Open Doors and other organizations throughout his imprisonment. ‚ÄúAll the people, including children, who sent me letters, cards, band-aids, lotion for my skin and little chocolates with Scriptures written on them — you really touched my heart.‚Äù (Compass)

Christian villages attacked in new terror wave

While many gathered in Bali to remember the first anniversary of the Bali bombing, Christian villages attacked in new terror wavethe Christian residents of Central Sulawesi were facing a fresh wave of terror by militant Islamists. In the early hours of Friday 10 October, masked militant Islamists attacked the predominantly Christian village of Beteleme in Central Sulawesi.They killed two people and wounded many more. They also torched a church and 38 homes, leaving some 200 homeless.