The fate of three Indonesian Catholics


Universe Column for October 15th 2006

by David Alton

I recently documented the plight of three Indonesian Catholics. They were executed by firing squad at about 1 am on Friday September 22nd. Thousands of Christians in central Sulawesi have protested against the executions and tensions have been running high.

Fabianus Tibo, 60, Dominggus da Silva, 39, and Marinus Riwu, 48, were sentenced to death for allegedly inciting sectarian violence and allegedly killing Muslims during Muslim-Christian conflict in central Sulawesi in 2000. There was much evidence, including testimonies by at least 13 witnesses, to prove the 3 men’s innocence yet the Indonesian courts simply ignored it. There appeared to be a strong bias against the 3 because they were Christians.

Their execution will do nothing to ease communal strains or create a more tolerant society.

In stark contrast to the fate of these three men, despite thousands of Muslims participating in the sectarian conflict, not even one Muslim has ever been prosecuted and punished. This punitive partiality and rank discrimination simply reinforces sectarianism.

During the trial huge pressure was put on the Judges by Muslim demonstrators who were armed with stones outside the courthouse, demanding that the 3 be sentenced to death, and their legal representatives were subjected to intimidation including death threats.

But Indonesia is not alone in failing to protect its small Christian minority. Look at the situation in Iran.

Four days after the execution of the Indonesian Three, Fereshteh Dibaj and her husband Amir Montazemi were arrested by secret police in Mashad, northeast Iran.  Fereshteh is the daughter of Rev. Mehdi Dibaj, an Iranian church leader who was martyred in 1994.

In “Passion and Pain” (ital), Jubilee Campaign, 2003, I detailed the way in which Medhi Dibaj was imprisoned for nine years – charged with having converted to Christianity – and was later killed. Fereshteh is his youngest daughter and he was murdered  while on his way to Fereshteh’s birthday party.  After nine years in jail Mehdi Dibaj was freed due to international pressure, including an intervention by Pope John Paul II, but his freedom was short-lived.

Now, twelve years later, it is the turn of his daughter and her husband.  Iran’s secret police arrived at their home at  7:00am local time. After the time honoured “knock on the door” the secret police  raided their apartment and confiscated their computers, Christian books, and other items.

Before they were forced into a waiting police car, Amir managed to quickly phone his mother to ask her to come and take their six year old daughter, Christine.

On arriving, Amir’s mother went into the apartment to collect Christine. Two men were still searching the apartment. On asking why this was happening and about the fate of Amir and Fereshteh, she was given erroneous information. It later emerged that they had been taken to a secret police station belonging to the notorious Revolutionary Guard.

Despite repeated attempts by Amir’s parents to find out why their son and Fereshteh have been detained, they have simply been told that the interrogation is still continuing.

Amir’s parents were then told that the couple would appear before a revolutionary court but when they arrived for the hearing no-one was there.

On Friday September 29, Amir made a very brief phone call to say he was fine, although he had no information about Fereshteh. No one has heard from Fereshteh since her arrest.

The fate of her father, Medhi Dibaj, and the fate of the three Indonesian Christians should be at the forefront of our concerns at this perilous time in Iran. This is a country in which any dissent – religious or political – is ruthlessly suppressed – with hundreds of public executions, including the hanging and stoning of women. The vast majority of those who suffer are, of course, non compliant Muslims.

You can help Fereshteh and Amir by a combination of pressure and prayer. If you want to write to the Iranian Ambassador in London he is H.E. Rasoul Mouahedian, Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 16 Prince’s Gate, London SW7 1 PT.

Their family have asked that you pray for protection for this young couple and that they will be given the right words to speak as they are interrogated. They need peace, wisdom and courage.

Their six year old daughter, Christine, being looked after by her grandparents needs prayers for peace of mind.
And the wider Christian community in Iran, along with the millions of Muslims who have suffered, need prayer as they face increasing pressure from the Mullah’s  regime.

It is difficult not to admire and respect a country which has produced great leaders and great scholars and contributed so richly to civilisation.  But great countries do no imprison, torture or execute their citizens because they dare to think or believe that which the State has not authorised.