Thursday, 01 September 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife)-- Indonesian judges sentenced three women to three years in prison Thursday, September 1, for "attempting to convert" Muslim children by allowing them to a Christian Sunday School program, a Christian news agency reported.
Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun received the sentence after judges found them guilty under the Child Protection Act of 2002, said Compass Direct, which closely followed the case.
The law forbids "deception, lies or enticement" causing a child to 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), according to experts.
The women plan to apeal the verdict and Zakaria was qouted as saying she was confident hat some day, "in God’s time," all three women would "walk free from the prison."
There was no immediate reaction from Indonesian authorities.
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, Jeff Hammond of the Jakarta based Bless Indonesia Today foundation told Compass Direct.
They women appeared relieved that they had not been given the maximum five-year prison sentence but "were devastated at the prospect of being separated from their children," who range from 6 to 19 years of age, Compass Direct said.
Christians from around the world had been praying for the women.
Before the trial session began, "Islamic extremists" reportedly took over the courtroom and made "murderous threats," the news agency added. "God is great" they were heard saying. Muslim hardliners, who reportedly arrived in several truckloads, also were seen carring one coffin to bury the accused if they were found innocent, witnesses said.
The trial anded what began as a "Happy Sunday" program, which 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 and Muslim children soon began to attend with the verbal consent of their parents, human rights watchers said.
Since the first accusations were made, Muslim authorities in West Java have forced Zakaria’s church to close. In addittion Muslim leaders have forced at least 60 unlicensed churches in West Java to shut down over the past year, sometimes with support from local authorities, human rights groups said.
On Wednesday advocacy group Christian Freedom International (CFI), which is active in the region, claimed in a statement received by BosNewsLife that over 20 churches were closed in recent weeks. Voice Of the Martyrs (VOM), another human rights group, said 35 churches had closed in August alone.
In one of the most violent incidents, a group of about 200 Islamic extremists forcibly shut down a Catholic Chapel in Margahayu, which is linked to a parish church in West Java, shortly after the 6:30 pm service on Sarurday August 27, the Catholic news website AsiaNews reported.
A radical group calling itself the Islam Defender's Front "is using intimidation, death threats, and acts of vandalism to force the closure of the churches," added CFI President Jim Jacobson. In total about 200 churches have been closed since 1996, several sources said. (With Stefan J. Bos, BosNewsLife Research and reports from Indonesia).
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