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Indonesia Must Protect Christians

Christian Freedom International Urges Fair Trials for Minority Christians

Contact:  Vickie Koth, Christian Freedom International, 540-636-8907

FRONT ROYAL, Virginia, Sept. 26 /Christian Newswire/ -- The government of Indonesia executed three Christians on September 22, 2006, for their alleged role in fighting on the island of Sulawesi six years ago.  Crowds rioted over the weekend on several islands in protest.

Indonesia’s Vice President, Jusuf Kalla, appealed for calm, claiming that “these killings were carried out according to our legal process.”  But, according to Christian Freedom International President Jim Jacobson, “Indonesia's legal process is the problem.”

Sulawesi was swept by sectarian violence from 2000 to 2002.  Christians shared in the blame, though outside Islamic groups, such as the Lasker Jihad, actively fomented conflict.

Few Muslims were ever punished for their role in fighting that cost at least 1000 lives.  No Muslim was sentenced to more than 15 years.

The trial of Fabianus Tibo, Marinus Riwu, and Dominggus da Silva was marked by irregularities.  “Indonesia’s judicial system is notable for its corruption, but this trial was over the top,” said Jacobson.  Crowds of Muslim fundamentalists regularly gathered at the trial, intimidating judges and witnesses alike.

Isabelle Cartron of Amnesty International reports:  “The men’s lawyers received death threats, including a bomb planted at one lawyer’s house, and demonstrators armed with stones outside the courthouse demanded that the three be sentenced to death.”

Nor is this the only case where Islamic extremists have threatened the courts.  A year ago three Sunday School teachers were convicted of the “Christianization” of Muslim children who had attended classes with the permission of their parents.  The women’s trial was highlighted by mob calls for their deaths. 

Private violence is unconstrained by government authorities throughout Indonesia.  The latest State Department report on international religious persecution explains that, despite formal respect for religious freedom:  “The Government sometimes tolerated discrimination against and the abuse of religious groups by private actors, and often failed to punish perpetrators.”

“Mobs have regularly destroyed churches and other Christian facilities around Indonesia, with no one ever punished,” said Jacobson.  “Out of fear of retaliation local officials often refuse to allow congregations to rebuild.”

These problems persist.  Last fall Christian Freedom International reported that an Islamist group, whose name translates into the Anti-Apostasy Alliance Movement, had used intimidation to close at least 35 churches on the island of Java, on which Jakarta is located.  Christians remain equally vulnerable elsewhere.

Even though the existing national government has affirmed its commitment to religious freedom, it limits outside support for religious groups and bans proselytizing.  Moreover, it recently adopted new rules making it virtually impossible to open a small church anywhere and any church in a non-Christian neighborhood.

Discrimination is evident in every day life for many Christians with whom CFI has worked.  In practice, Christians are less likely to receive government benefits and jobs; they sometimes face extortion and intimidation because the police and judiciary often do not protect non-Muslims.

“Indonesia has much to do to become a true partner of America and leader in Asia.  Jakarta must protect in fact as well as in theory its religious minorities.  A good place to start would be to guarantee Christians a fair trial in the face of Islamic mob rule,” said Jacobson.

For more information or interviews, contact Christian Freedom International at 540-636-8907 or visit online: http://www.christianfreedom.org