Pastor Damanik Released from Indonesian Prision

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

SANTA ANA, CA (Open Doors) -- Rev. Rinaldy Damanik, imprisoned on what many believe were false charges, walked free today (Tuesday, November 9) - almost a year earlier than his original release date.

Damanik, a prominent figure in peace negotiations between warring Muslim and Christian communities on the island of Sulawesi, was convicted on charges of "illegal weapons possession" in June 2003 and sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

With allowance made for time already served in police custody, he was due for release in September 2005.

Many observers believed Damanik was innocent. Witnesses in court said they were tortured by police and forced to give false evidence. Judge Somanada admitted that many irregularities had occurred during the alleged discovery of the weapons and during the trial, but he still delivered a guilty verdict.

"The release of Pastor Damanik is really an answer to the prayers of thousands of Christians around the world," says Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller. "His release comes just days before the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church Nov. 14. We need to keep on praying for other Christians in prison and all those who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. The prayers of His people are so powerful!"

A leading Muslim cleric, Idrus. R. al Habsy, became a staunch advocate for Damanik's release after hearing about his campaign for peace. On August 20, the elderly cleric wrote to the Minister of Justice and Human Rights declaring Damanik to be a "man of good character" who "should be allowed to go free."

Idrus then passed away on August 23 from a serious illness. However, his actions paved the way for Damanik's early release.

Friends, family and members of the press who gathered outside Maesa Detention Center early today faced an anxious two-hour wait as papers were processed.

Damanik was finally brought out of the prison at around 10:30 a.m. local time and spoke briefly with reporters before leaving with his family. He planned to stay in Palu overnight to attend a church meeting in his new capacity as president of the Christian Church of Central Sulawesi (GKST or Gereja Kristen Sulawesi Tengah), before traveling back to Tentena, his home town, on Wednesday.

Damanik was elected president of the GKST Synod on October 17, while he was still in prison.

Speaking to the press, Damanik expressed gratitude to all who had supported him during his arrest and imprisonment. He later met with an Open Doors staff member and said he was particularly grateful for the prayer, financial and moral support provided by the ministry.

During his time in prison, Damanik received a total of 26,866 letters and cards from Christians all over the world. Many of these came in response to an Open Doors letter-writing campaign.

Damanik asked his daughter Nanda to record all the letters received, and said he made an effort to read each and every one, although some letters were written in foreign languages.

In an interview at Maesa Detention Center in late July, Damanik spoke of his plans following release. "When I leave, I will continue to do exactly what I was doing before I was arrested," he told an Open Doors staff member.

"I'm no hero," he added. "I'm just a normal human being. If there are any injustices being done by the government, I will again voice my opinion against it. I don't have any agenda -I'll just keep doing the same thing I did before.

"But there are two things I'd like to do if I could. First of all, I'd like to meet the refugees at different refugee camps to thank them for supporting me.

"Secondly, I'd like to thank all those who have written to me and encouraged me in the prison. All the people, including children, who sent me letters, cards, band-aids, lotion for my skin, and little chocolates with Scriptures written on them - you really touched my heart.

"I was amazed at the children who sent me pictures of trees and clouds and beautiful blue sky. Maybe they knew I couldn't see those things in the prison."

Damanik also had clear opinions on the sectarian conflict in Sulawesi, which began in the late 1990s. "From the beginning, I've said this is not a religious conflict. The real causes are the injustices we live with - for example, corruption and favoritism, which are not being addressed or handled wisely by the government. This has prolonged the conflict."

Damanik can now look forward to resuming his work with the GKST Crisis Center, which provides help to both Muslim and Christian victims of sectarian violence.

Some have expressed fears that Damanik may become the next target of mysterious killers who have murdered at least six Christians and wounded 11 more on the island since April. The victims include Ferry Silalahi, who represented Damanik in court and was shot in May; and Rev. Susianty Tinulele, who visited Damanik in prison two days before she was shot during a church service on July 18.

Commenting on the response Christians should have to the violence, Damanik said the church needed to pray and bless their enemies. However, he stated, "We also need to show we are not cowards in facing this injustice. I'm not saying we should express our anger in revenge, but we need to speak the truth in love.

"Finally, we Christians should look at ourselves in the mirror and see what faults we have before pointing the finger at others. We need to clean up our own house first."

An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors serves and strengthens the Persecuted Church in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development and prayer and presence ministry. To partner with Open Doors, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (524-2535) or go to our USA web site at To request a complimentary six-month subscription to our monthly newsletter Frontline Faith, call 888-5-BIBLE-5 or register on-line.