Indonesian Pastor to Receive Urgent Medical Treatment

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Rev. Damanik seriously ill; finally receives permission for hospital transfer after days of negotiation with officials.

by Sarah Page

DUBLIN, May 4 (Compass) -- Rev. Rinaldy Damanik, a pastor who many believe was framed on false charges of illegal weapons possession, has finally received permission to travel to Jakarta for urgent medical treatment. Damanik has been in and out of the Salvation Army hospital in Palu since mid-April, suffering from severe kidney problems. Doctors believe he needs urgent surgery, the facilities for which are only available in Jakarta.

Members of his support team have battled with authorities for permission to transfer Damanik to a hospital in the capital. After days of negotiation, officials finally agreed on May 3 that Damanik could be transferred to Jakarta. He would be accompanied by two policemen, two guards from Maesa prison where he is currently being held, a doctor, and his wife and daughter.

Dr. Jerry Bororing, who has been monitoring Damanik’s condition, believes Damanik is suffering from “Nephrohthiasris” in his right kidney, and “Urethrolithiasis” in his left. While in the hospital, Damanik has experienced acute pain and high fevers. Doctors say his condition has worsened due to the delay in appropriate medical treatment.

On Tuesday, April 20, Mona Saroinsong -- a staff member of the CC-SAG Crisis Centre in North Sulawesi and a key member of Damanik’s support team -- told Compass that, “Rev. Damanik is out of the hospital now, and is back to his cell. He is better, but not completely recovered. According to the doctor, he needs an operation, but Palu hospitals have no such equipment, so it has to be done in Jakarta.”

“Most important, we have no money for it,” she added. “He has to wait until we have the means to do so. Please keep praying for him.”

Damanik was returned in the same condition to Woodward hospital on April 25. Saroinsong noted that, “It seems he just tried to hold himself and try to look healthy outside, but in fact … he is not yet recovered.”

On April 30, Dr. Bororing was determined to move Damanik to Jakarta despite the consequences, fearing that any further delays in treatment might prove fatal. However Damanik refused to leave the hospital before official permission was granted. In a phone conversation with Saroinsong, Damanik said he would prefer to stay put rather than implicate hospital and prison staff in an illegal transfer.

On Saturday, May 1, Damanik asked to be taken back to his cell. However he suffered from high fevers that night and lapsed into unconsciousness, “longer than before,” according to prison guards, who returned him to Woodward hospital at 9am on May 2.

Dr. Bororing once again instructed that Damanik be taken to Jakarta for immediate treatment, but Damanik refused to leave as an official letter of permission had not yet been granted. Tensions were high in the emergency room as some insisted that Damanik be taken to the airport, until Damanik began singing, “I want to follow Jesus, I want to follow Jesus forever. Although I will be in pain and suffer, I will keep following Jesus forever.” In a subsequent phone call to Saroinsong, Dr. Bororing declared, “He is a true servant of God who really loves peace.”

Damanik’s advocacy team had submitted the necessary papers to the Directorate General of Prison Affairs in the Department of Justice and Human Rights on April 27, but according to Saroinsong, head of the advocacy team, their submission was treated like a “ping pong ball.” Officials in the department then left for a tennis tournament in Bandung on April 28, leaving the office deserted with nobody to answer calls or process documents.

Permission was finally granted on Monday, May 3, leaving the future a little brighter for Damanik. However Saroinsong and other members of the support team have asked for continued prayer for Damanik and his family, who lack the finances to pay for his surgery.

Damanik himself sees this incident as an illustration of the larger problem in Indonesia’s justice system. “If this little minute problem, although it’s a life and death matter really, cannot be resolved appropriately by the system, imagine the degree of failure concerning greater issues of justice and violation of the law,” he said, in a phone conversation with Saroinsong. “The system has really cost this country and its people.”

Damanik, a prominent figure in peace negotiations between Muslim and Christian communities in Poso, was convicted on charges of “illegal weapons possession” on June 16, 2003. The charge dates back to an incident on August 17, 2002 when his relief convoy was stopped by police, who then searched his vehicle. Days later, police claimed they had found firearms and ammunition in the vehicle and petitioned the High Court to bring charges against Damanik.

The court case opened in February 2003. Several witnesses for the prosecution admitted in court that police had pressured them into giving negative testimony for Damanik. Judge Somanada admitted that correct legal procedure had not been followed. However Damanik was found guilty and sentenced to a three-year imprisonment, due to end in September 2005.