Evangelicals Appeal for Indonesians Jailed for "Converting" Muslim Children

( [email protected] ) Jul 25, 2005 08:00 PM EDT

Three Indonesian housewives from Haurgelis, West Java, have been sentenced for five-year in jail last week for attempting to "convert" some Muslim children to Christianity. They even faced threats from a yelling mob of 150 fundamentalists during the court appearance, according to the Times.

Dr Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun were arrested on 13th May, charged under Indonesia¡¦s criminal law with using lies, deception or enticement to change a child¡¦s religion.

Dr Zakaria is the pastor of Gereja Kristen Kemah Daud (GKKD), or Christian Church of David¡¦s Camp, located in the small town of Harguelis, a strongly Muslim fundamentalist area in West Java which is about 2 percent Christian.

Together with Pangesti and Bangun, the three women set up a "Happy Sunday" programme 18 months ago with Christian songs, games and Bible study for the children. Compass Direct reported that the number of children attending the programme had grown to 40, but only 10 were from Christian homes.

A chapter of the Indonesian Council of Muslim Clerics put forward the charge against the women. According to The Times, the Council claimed that by taking the children on trips to parks and swimming pools, and rewarding them with treats such as pencils for memorising Christian prayers and Bible verses, the women have tried to "lure" Muslim children into Christianity.

Despite the women¡¦s arguments that the Muslim children participated in the group with full consent of their parents, they face up to five years of imprisonment.

Bambang Widjaya, the chairman of the Indonesian Council of Evangelical Churches, responded through the Times about the controversial case, "The main motive behind this is political. Fundamentalists want to use this case to launch a political campaign and rally support for their goal of implementing Sharia (Islamic law)."

"The Government is too scared of Muslim voters to intervene. In many areas Muslims are tolerant, but in other areas where there are fundamentalists there is discrimination. Fundamentalists are growing in influence in our country."

Some of the regions in Indonesia are troubled by the Christian-Muslim conflicts and violence. Over 33 people were killed in Ambon, one of the Maluku Islands of Indonesia last year when violence broke out between Christians and Muslims.

A report said that about 10,000 Christians were killed in Indonesia between 1998 and 2003 and about 1,000 churches were burnt down by Muslim mobs.