Indonesian bishop condemns Catholics' death sentence

Three Catholics condemned to death for violence which hit in Poso five years are innocent and should not be executed, says Bishop Joseph Suwatan of Manado.

AsiaNews reports that Bishop Suwatan has come out in defence of the three men who were refused a pardon by the Indonesian president earlier this month.

"I think Fabianus Tibo, Marianus Riwu and Dominggus da Silva are not the ringleaders of the riots in Poso. They also are victims of the riots. In my opinion, a death sentence is not proper for them," the bishop said.

Bishop Suwatan's diocese covers Poso, a city in the province of central Sulawesi where bloody conflict between Christians and Muslims was played out between 1998 and 2001, claiming 2000 lives. AsiaNews points out that no Muslims have been tried for their part in the violence so far.

The Palu District Court condemned Tibo and his two friends to death after finding them guilty of a series of murders of Muslims perpetrated in Poso between May and June 2000, which led to the clashes between the two communities. The death penalty was upheld by the Central Sulawesi High Court in May 2001 and again by the Jakarta Supreme Court in November that same year.

On 10 November, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono turned down an appeal for clemency. The execution date has not been set as yet. For many Indonesians, the trial of the three Catholics was controversial; intimidation by fundamentalist Muslims was widespread and frequent throughout. Some observers said the jury had no choice but to "give in" the groups who wanted the three men found guilty.

Bishop Suwatan said the three condemned men were simple, illiterate men, who migrated to Poso from the island of Flores in search of a better life. According to the bishop, the Catholics did not take part in the clashes in Poso, rather "they became victims of riots that totally burned down St Theresa Catholic Church and the rectory, a sisters' convent, and Catholic schools."

The bishop's secretary said that "as soon as the bishop heard the news that the plea for a pardon had been rejected, he said he would pray for the three people and their families". Fr Lengkong added that the diocese gives the families moral support and is praying for the commutation of their sentences.

Poso bishop declares Catholics' death sentence unjust (AsiaNews.it 26/11/05)

Indonesian bishop protests death sentences for Catholics (Catholic World News 28/11/05)
Maluku Islands on high terrorism alert (AsiaNews.it 22/11/05)
Christian couple shot at in Sulawesi (AsiaNews.it 21/11/05)
Another young woman murdered in central Sulawesi (AsiaNews.it 18/11/05)
Indonesian Christians in fear after attacks and beheadings (Ekklesia 20/11/05)

29 Nov 2005