Indonesia: Christian militiamen face execution

Note that this is being portrayed openly as a tit-for-tat to counter-balance the scheduled execution of those convicted in the Bali bombings. Note also that the Indonesian military itself has been accused of enflaming the Sulawesi violence through proxy militias. And note that the Pentagon has openly broached intervention in the Sulawesi conflict. From Asia News, Aug. 10:

Jakarta – Thousands of residents from the Catholic-majority Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) have protested against the imminent execution of Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marinus Riwa. The authorities have set the execution date as 12 August. More than 5,000 people took to the streets in different cities to call for the reopening of the “unjust trial” that condemned the three Catholics to death for masterminding Christian-Muslim violence in Poso, central Sulawesi province, in 2001. The protest marches in Maumere, Ende, and in Kupang, the capital of the province, featured banners condemning the execution of “innocent people”.

The Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has also come under fire: “He should listen to the people’s voice”. Susilo is the last hope of Tibo and his two friends. The lawyers’ group, PADMA, which is defending the three Catholics, has made it clear that it’s not over yet. Although the Prosecutor’s Office of Sulawesi has officially decided to go ahead, the head of state has yet to voice his decision about the second request for pardon sent by the convicts’ families. “Any plan to execute the death penalty is illegal if a reply from Susilo does not come first,” said Reining, a lawyer and member of PADMA. This is stipulated in Law no. 22/2002 about presidential pardons. The father of da Silva, says he is desperate: “I vividly hope that the government will review the decision to carry out the capital punishment.”

Meanwhile, people are gearing up to protest in Jakarta too. Representatives of several NGOs are gathering at the Wahid Institute, run by the ex-Indonesian President, Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, who already previously declared his support for the three Catholics. Members of the Synod of Indonesian Churches and the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference are also there. Also in the capital, the governor of NTT province, Peter “Piet” Tallo, held a press conference calling for the cancellation of the death sentence and the reopening of the case.

Fr Maxi Un Bria of the Justice and Peace Commission of Kupang Archdiocese is one of those promoting today’s rallies. The priest issued a statement urging local Catholics to demonstrate peacefully and to pray for the condemned men. He said: “A man’s death is in the hands of God, not of a firing squad.”

In Makassar, a province in south Sulawesi, students from the groups of Students to Defend and Care for Justice have protested, convinced that the decision to execute Tibo and his friends is “insensate and totally wrong”.

However, in some circles, there is a conviction that leaves little room for hope: the authorities want the execution of three Christians to be carried out before that of the three terrorists found guilty of the Bali bombings, which is slated for 22 August. This would silence possible protests by Islamic extremist groups.

See our last post on ethnic struggles in the Indonesian archipelago, and in Sulawesi.