Miracle last hour stay of execution for death row Indonesians

The spiritual advisor of three Indonesians condemned to death for their part in Muslim-Christian violence has described the stay of execution following an appeal from Pope Benedict as a "miracle."

AsiaNews reports that the execution of the three Indonesian Catholics - Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marinus Riwa - which had been scheduled for Saturday has been stayed for at least a week.

The announcement was made by Sulawesi Police Chief Brig Gen Oegroseno, who said that the order came from National Police Chief General Sutanto.

But Catholics and Muslims opposed to the execution plan have not interrupted their prayer vigils for the release of the three prisoners.

In the announcement that came after President Susilo met his top security ministers, General Susanto said: "I can confirm that the execution has been cancelled."

In point of fact, the cancellation is only temporary, ostensibly because "all of Indonesia is now preparing to celebrate the 61st anniversary of independence next August 17," the general said as he was leaving the State Palace.

The sentence has been rescheduled for three days after Independence Day celebrations, in all likelihood on 20 August.

Despite the official explanation, it is widely believed that the postponement was due to strong pressures on the government from various groups, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), human rights activists, church leaders, the international community as well as the Holy See.

In a statement, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said his government is prepared to explain the reasons for the sentence.

For Fr Norbert Bethan, the three prisoners' spiritual advisor, the decision was a miracle. "This is God's work," he told AsiaNews. "Just moments ago a prison guard showed us the three coffins that are supposed to contain the remains" of the three men.

Earlier Pope Benedict had asked for "an act of clemency" on "humanitarian grounds, and in light of the particularity of the case," that would spare the lives of three Catholics sentenced to death in Poso.

The three Catholics have been accused of masterminding Christian-Muslim violence in Poso, central Sulawesi province, in 2001.

Amnesty International and church groups have said they are concerned at reports indicating that the trial of the three men did not meet international standards of fairness.

Stay of execution for three Indonesian sentenced to death (AsiaNews, 11/8/06)

Thousands rally to save death row Catholics in Indonesia (CathNews, 11/8/06)
Indonesian Catholics to face firing squad on Saturday (CathNews 10/8/06) a/A>
Indonesian death row Catholics lose court appeal (CathNews 16/5/06)
Further appeal opportunity for Indonesian death row Catholics (CathNews 19/4/06)
Activists maintain fight for death row Indonesian Catholics (CathNews 10/4/06)
Second clemency plea for death row Indonesian Catholics (CathNews 28/3/06)
Pope sends envoy to death row Indonesians (CathNews 22/3/06)
Indonesian bishop condemns Catholics' death sentence (CathNews 29/11/05)
Looming execution of three Indonesian Catholics (CathNews 17/11/05)
Indonesian bishop concerned about resurgence of violence in Poso (CathNews 16/8/02)

Minister denies delayed execution due to foreign pressure (Antara, 14/8/06)
Indonesians hold prayer vigil ahead of executions (ABC News, 11/8/06)
Last wish of Indonesian Catholic on death row (Asia News, 11/8/06)

14 Aug 2006