Indonesian judges today sentenced three women to three years in prison for allowing Muslim children to attend a Christian Sunday School program.
The three woman are Rebekka Zakaira, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun received the sentence after judges found them guilty of violating the Child Protection Act of 2002, which forbids "deception, lies or enticement" causing a child for convert to another religion. The maximum sentence for violation of the Act is five years in prison and a fine of 100 million rupiah ($10,226).
The Sunday school teachers had instructed the children to get permission from their parents before attending the program, and those who did not have permission were asked to go home.
The three women, ordinary housewives, were relieved that they had not been given the maximum five-year prison sentence; however, all three were devastated at the prospect of being separated from their children, who range from 6 to 19 years of age.
According to Compass Direct, 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 threat 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 as reported by Compass Direct.
Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, said the case could establish a dangerous precedent.
Defense attorneys pointed out that several of the Muslim parents had been photographed with their children during the Sunday school activities, proof that they had permitted their children to attend. When Muslim leaders lodged a complaint, however, the parents refused to testify in support of the women.
No witnesses testified or provided evidence of the charges that the woman had lied, deceived, or forced the children into changing their religion, defense attorneys had told the court. They also said, witnesses who testified against the women had no first-hand knowledge of the educational program and were speaking from hearsay.
The "Happy Sunday" program was established to meet legal requirements for a local elementary school.
Zakaria, who pastors the Christian Church of David's Camp in Harguelis, Indramayu district, West Java, was approached by the school in August 2003 and asked to provide a Christian education program for Christian students, in line with the National Education System Bill that came into effect in June of that year.
The women launched the program in September 2003. It proved popular, and Muslim children soon began to attend with the verbal consent of their parents.