Three Catholics in Indonesia facing execution


Universe Column for September 3rd 2006

by David Alton

Over the summer there has been a flurry of activity to try and save the lives of three Catholic men in Indonesia who have been facing execution. Many people have been writing letters, making telephone calls, and sending e-mails. Organisations like Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide have spearheaded the lobbying. The Holy See has intervened and one retired English bishop has been fasting and praying for them. At the time of writing the sentence has been postponed but not revoked.

Fabianus Tibo, 60, Dominggus da Silva, 39, and Marinus Riwu, 48, were sentenced to death for allegedly inciting sectarian violence in Central Sulawesi and for allegedly killing Muslims during Muslim-Christian conflict in Sulawesi some years ago.

At their trial Muslim witnesses were among the numerous witnesses who spoke out in their defence and both Indonesian Muslim and Christian leaders have called for a stay of execution and re-trial. There is much evidence to indicate that these 3 Christians are innocent yet the Indonesian courts have simply ignored this evidence and appear to have a strong bias against these 3 men because they are Christians.

While the courts in central Sulawesi appear very ready to convict Christians for alleged offences, they have yet to convict and punish a single Muslim for involvement in Muslim-Christian conflict or for conducting terrorist attacks against Christians in central Sulawesi.

This begs the question, why is it that when Christians in central Sulawesi are still being subjected to vicious terrorist attacks do the Indonesian authorities only convict and punish Christians in that region? It suggests a bias – and maybe worse – within the political and judicial system. Nor did these 3 Christians have a fair trial. The atmosphere was redolent of a public lynching. There were demonstrators armed with stones outside the courthouse, demanding that the three be sentenced to death, and their legal representatives were subjected to intimidation including death threats. A bomb was even planted at the house of one legal adviser. The judge in the trial neglected to even seriously consider the testimonies of at least thirteen different witnesses (including the defendants themselves) that would have exonerated them. These 3 Christians tried to help unarmed Christians who were under violent attack from Muslims and have repeatedly denied being responsible for inciting the conflict or committing murder.

Irwanto Hasan, who at the time was a member of the Poso Police Intelligence Division, testified that the 3 Christians were engaged in a humanitarian exercise when they were arrested. They entered the conflict zone to evacuate children from a church-run school in the village of Moengko.

On the morning of May 23, 2000, a Muslim mob entered Moengko and set fire to the church-run school. The 3 men and the students escaped out the back door while the building was burned to the ground.

In stark contrast to the treatment of these three Catholic men, Jafar Umar Thalib, the leader of the militant Islamic group, Laskar Jihad, remains free from prosecution even though he is guilty of the very crimes which Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva, and Marinus Riwu have been accused of. The Laskar Jihad, which Jafar Umar Thalib led, were responsible for escalating Muslim-Christian conflict in the Moluccas islands and the massacre of thousands of Christians during that conflict. Yet the Indonesian authorities have so far taken no action to prosecute and punish Jafar Umar Thalib for these crimes.

Those same authorities need to understand that if Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva, and Marinus Riwu are executed, this gross miscarriage of justice is likely to re-ignite Muslim-Christian conflict in central Sulawesi, destroying the hard-won and fragile peace in that area.

If you wish to join the calls for these three men to be freed – or at the least retried, you can indicate your concern by sending a fax to the Indonesian President, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Fax number: +62 21 345 2685.

You can contact the Indonesian embassy in London to urge that the 3 Christians not be executed. The contact details of the Indonesian embassy are: Tel: 020 7499 7661 Fax: 020 7491 4993.

You can also phone or fax the office of the Minister at the Foreign Office, who covers Indonesia, Ian McCartney MP,- whose office have been in touch with me this week to say that they are doing what they can – and request that they urge our European Union partners to do likewise. Contact details of Ian McCartney’s office at the Foreign Office are: Tel: 020 7008 2129 Fax: 020 7008 3539

You can phone your local MP and urge your MP to also take any of the above mentioned action.

And perhaps you can follow the lead of Bishop John Jukes and fast and pray for justice for these three men and for communal relationships in Indonesia to be based on true justice, respect and tolerance.