Indonesian Sunday School Teachers Released From Prison After Two Years

Monday, June 11, 2007

By BosNewsLife News Center with BosNewsLife news reports

JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife) -- Three Indonesian women who were serving a prison sentence for including Muslim children in a church program in West Java, Indonesia, were released early Friday, June 8, amid international pressure, BosNewsLife learned.

Ratna Bangun, Eti Pangesti and Dr Rebekka Zakaria were released from Indramayu State Prison in West Java after serving two years of a three-year sentence on charges related to running a 'Sunday School' for mainly local Muslim children, the teachers said.

They made world headlines when they were sentenced in 2005, after a court found them guilty to charges brought by the powerful Indonesian Clerics Council of "breaching the country’s 2002 Child Protection Law."

Amid mounting international pressure they "were freed on parole at 6am local time and went immediately to be reunited with their families," said Open Doors, which supports Christians imprisoned or otherwise "persecuted" for their faith in Christ.


"These [prison] gates are a university of trust," said Dr Rebekka Zakaria in commentsreleased by Open Doors and obtained by BosNewsLife. "This is nothing compared with the suffering and persecution faced by others. Compared with the Lord’s love and what He has given me, it is worth it," she was quoted as saying.

She said that their imprisonment was "nothing compared with the suffering and persecution faced by others. Compared with the Lord’s love and what He has given me, it [was] worth it."

Several Christian rights groups had been campaigning for their release, questioning the court procedures and evidence while secular and Christian media, including BosNewsLife and its affiliates, regularly reported on the plight of the women.

The case also sparked international concern among Christians resulting in a global letter writing campaign and prayer vigils.

"This is wonderful news. Rebekka, Ratna and Eti were an inspiration to me when I visited them; I was profoundly impressed by their courage and commitment," said Eddie Lyle, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland in a first reaction following their release.


The women of the Christian Church of David's Camp set up a 'Happy Sunday' program, with Christian songs, games and Bible studies for the children in a private home. After 18 months the program proved to be popular, but of the 40 children attending only 10 were from Christian homes, said Open Doors, which has been involved in the case.

The Muslim children participating reportedly did so with the consent of their parents, however opposition to the school resulted in the forced closure of the church building in December 2004. However the three women continued to run the 'Happy Sunday' program from Eti Pangesti’s home, which Christian observers said eventually led to their arrest on May 13 of 2005.

They were accused of breaching the Child Protection Law and during the highly charged trial Islamic militants apparently threatened to kill the three mothers from both inside and outside the courtroom. Several bus loads of Islamic militants arrived each day, some of them bringing with them a coffin to bury the women if they were found innocent, eyewitnesses said.

Yet, rights watchers meeting the women said they remained "powerful" witnesses for their Christian faith and refused to abandon Christianity.


Open Doors said the women "transformed" the crowded prison by cleaning washrooms and toilets, scrubbing cells, working on the garden and even painting in bright yellow and blue the walls of the room they used for church meetings.

"Within the women’s section, quarrelling was reduced...Because of Rebekka, Ratna and Eti’s calming influence, the guards [even] overruled prison protocol and allowed each woman to have her own knife and spoon in their cell," Open Doors said in a statement to BosNewsLife.

Eddie cautioned however that many Christians remained behind bars, Friday, June 8. "Elsewhere in the world, in countries such as North Korea and Eritrea, thousands of Christians remain unjustly imprisoned for their faith. As with any family we experience rights and responsibilities, and our responsibility as the Christian brothers and sisters of those in prison, is to continue serving and encouraging them through our prayers and practical support," he said. (With reports from Indonesia).

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