Christian Peace Leader Poisoned While in Police Custody

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Reverend Damanik, a key Christian leader working for an end to the violence in Indonesia, has been poisoned while being detained for the last four months.

Medical reports indicate that Rev Damanik was given insect poison in his food on December 26 while in police custody in Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi.

The Central Sulawesi police moved him to Palu on December 22 last year without notifying his lawyers or family, justifying concerns for his safety.

The attempt on his life was unsuccessful and he has now been transferred to the custody of the Central Sulawesi High Court where it is felt he will be safer.

Reverend Rinaldy Damanik, 43, is head of the Crisis Centre of Central Sulawesi and was responsible for informing the international community of the attacks and human rights violations in the area.

He was stopped by police in Peleru in Sulawesi while attempting to evacuate to safety Christians under attack from militants on August 17.

The police allege they seized 14 weapons and ammunition from his car, but he was not arrested at the time nor informed of such a discovery.

A warrant for his arrest was issued on August 22 and until now the Central Sulawesi police have been unsuccessful in producing sufficient evidence to back their allegations.

The police's case has been rejected three times by the Central Sulawesi High Court due to insufficient evidence. In addition, his legal team has so far been refused access to the case evidence, the Prosecutor's office is stalling attempts to release him on bail and there are allegations of witness tampering. A date for the court hearing has not yet been given.

His supporters are convinced he is in detention in a bid to silence him and to placate extremists who still have influential supporters in both the government and the military.

Mona Saroinsong, the coordinator or the Crisis Centre, told CSW on January 16: "This is definitely an injustice and the procedure is completely wrong.

"Reverend Damanik is coping well, only he's really worried that the police will use the case as an excuse to arrest other Christians as they have tried to get him to name names. He is also worried that they will harass other Christians to try to implicate Reverend Damanik as they have no real evidence. These seem to be the actions of irresponsible regional government officials and the police.

"We are calling on the international community to urge our government to investigate the actions of these corrupt and irresponsible regional authorities.

"We also call on the international community to urge our government to ensure the trial is run fairly and justly according to the law and to make sure there will be no pressure on the court to find him guilty."

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said: "Reverend Rinaldy Damanik is a key supporter of the peace process on Sulawesi which is currently balanced on a knife edge.

"There is strong evidence that he has already survived one assassination attempt while in custody. CSW calls on the Indonesian authorities to ensure that this man is guaranteed safety and due process of law."

For more information, details of Indonesian contacts or a picture of Rev Damanik, contact Richard Chilvers at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on 020 8949 0587 or 020 8942 8810 or email or go to

Background Notes

Rev Damanik has been charged with the violation of an emergency law which prohibits owning or controlling weapons or ammunition without permission. Such a charge carries a sentence of between 12 years in prison and the death penalty.

According to the Crisis Centre of the Churches in North and Central Sulawesi, the police authorities claim they have eyewitness testimony to support their allegations, but evidence is already emerging that this testimony was obtained using torture.

The Crisis Centre states that the decision to proceed with Rev Damanik's trial is a travesty of justice and calls for the international community to urge the Indonesian government to intervene before tensions in the area escalate.

They are asking people to write a letter to their MP or MEP calling on the Indonesian authorities to transfer proceedings to Jakarta and to ensure he has a just and impartial trial. They are also requesting supporters to urge their MP or MEP to petition the Indonesian government for his safety in custody and to launch an immediate inquiry into the alleged misconduct of the Central Sulawesi police officials in his case. In addition, his legal team is calling for international observers to be sent to his trial to ensure it is just and impartial.

In contrast to Rev Damanik's treatment, the prosecutor's office recommended a one year sentence on December 19 for Jafar Umar Thalib, the leader of the militant Islamist Laskar Jihad organisation. Thalib called for 'holy war' against Christians in Indonesia and was accused of inciting violence and defamation of the president, but was released shortly after his arrest in May 2002.

Reverend Damanik is a key supporter of the reconciliation process between Christians and Muslims as well as an outspoken critic of the police and government's perceived lack of commitment to stop the violence in the region.

Mona Saroinsong of the Crisis Centre added: "If the national government ensures that this case is run fairly, it will restore both communities' faith in the government's commitment to the peace process.

"If Muslims and Christians at the grassroots see injustice done, it will seriously damage the peace process and the government's credibility.

"The conflict in Central Sulawesi is not really a religious conflict, but one of political, economic and power interests. This case especially is a result of pressure from the extremists in Poso who are unfortunately still very influential and are trying to sabotage the peace process."