Three Indonesian Christian Women Lost Important Appeal; Last Appeal Left

On Nov. 22, these women lost an important trial to have their three-year sentences reduced or overturned by a higher court, according to Christian Freedom International.
( [email protected] ) Nov 29, 2005 04:57 PM EST

Religious-freedom groups urged for the immediate release of three Indonesian Christian teachers, who were wrongly acquitted.

On Nov. 22, Rebekka Zakaira, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun lost an important trial to have their three-year sentences reduced or overturned by a higher court, but they have one appeal left, according to Christian Freedom International.

"I regret to inform you, after the second phase court level--in Indonesia's law process system, we have a three phase law court level--the second court judge agreed with the decision of the first court judge. This means Dr. Rebekka, Etty, and Ratna face a punishment of three years in prison." A local pastor, who visits the three women weekly, told CFI.

Since the "unfair" trial took place, human rights groups and religious freedom watch-dogs, such as CFI and Compass Direct and Jubilee Campaign and other organizations have been widely publicizing this event and urged for International community to place pressure upon the Indonesian government to quickly address this issue.

"We still need support from all of our brothers and sisters to continue with the legal process until the highest level-the third level is complete-the last action for our law process system."

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 "Happy Sunday" program to meet legal requirements for a local elementary school in September 2003. It proved popular, and Muslim children soon began to attend with the verbal consent of their parents. 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 women were acquitted unfairly by the Indonesian court. While the trial was being held, Islamic extremists made murderous threats both inside and outside the courtroom. The ladies, witnesses and judges were constantly under the threat of violence from hundreds of Islamic radicals who threatened to kill the ladies, witnesses, pastors, missionaries, and even the judges if the women were acquitted as reported by Compass Direct.

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 the acquittal could prevent any kind of Christian ministry to Muslim children, whether or not conversion is the goal, according to CFI.

While the trial was being held, radical Muslims in West Java continued their campaign of church closures. Since the end of July, thirty-five churches have been shut down by the MUI and its affiliates and at least sixty in the past year. The authorities claimed the 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.

Related Links:

Three Indonesian Christian Women Acquitted in Unfair Trial - 9-5-2005

Indonesian Women Found Guilty for "Christianization" - 9-6-2005