Dr. Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun have been on trial since June 30. Thursday, September 1, the women were found guilty on all charges and sentenced to three years in prison. The women were convicted under the Child Protection Act of 2002, which prohibits the enticement of minors to convert to another religion.
Zakaria, Pangesti and Bangun had operated a Sunday School program known as "Happy Sunday" out of one of their homes until it was closed by a local branch of the Muslim Clerics Council (MUI) earlier this year. Originally designed for Christian children, the program began accepting Muslim children only after receiving the permission of the children's parents or guardians. The MUI claimed that they had no such permission, and pressured the police to arrest them, which they did in mid-May. The women remained in jail for the duration of their trial.
The trial itself was marred from the beginning by vociferous protests by radical Muslim activists, who conducted prayers and made speeches both outside and within the courtroom and loudly demanded that the defendants be convicted. An observer who had attended most of the court sessions informed us that Thursday was no different. He said, "Today [the protestors] arrived in nine trucks and brought a coffin to bury the accused if they were not found guilty. Their violent threats continued in their speeches before the session began. When the panel of judges read the verdict . . . the crowd erupted with 'Allahu akbar' or 'Allah is greater.'"
Many observers fear that, in addition to being a gross miscarriage of justice, the conviction of the women will set an ominous precedent for the interpretation of the Child Protection Law. They suggest that Thursday's decision could prevent any kind of Christian ministry to Muslim children, whether or not conversion is the goal.
In a related story, radical Muslims in West Java, emboldened or inflamed by the trial, have continued their campaign of church closures. Thirty-five churches have been shut down by the MUI and its affiliates since the end of July, and at least sixty in the past year. The authorities claimedthe churches are unlicensed and therefore illegal, which is technically true, but sources in Indonesia explain that it is practically impossible for churches to receive registration anywhere in Indonesia. Jubilee Campaign has received two documents that police in West Java have used to close churches in that province. See below for links to the documents.