Crowds in the East Java town of Situbondo, angry at the sentencing of a Muslim who had been found guilty of insulting Islam, went on a destructive rampage October 10 leaving at least five Christians dead among several burned churches.
More than 2,000 Muslims destroyed two Christian schools, an orphanage, and 18 Reformed, Pentecostal, and Catholic churches in several East Java towns. In all, 25 churches were damaged in the riots, 17 of them by fire.
Ishak Christian, the pastor of a Surabaya Pentecostal church, his wife, daughter, niece, and a church-staff worker were killed when they became trapped in their burning church.
At least 52 of the rioters were arrested, and State Secretary Moerdiono promised to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. However, according to a Reuter news report, East Java Governor Basofi Sudirman wanted information about the riots hushed.
The crowds had been calling for the death penalty for a local Muslim sect leader named Saleh, who had been convicted of insulting Islam. Saleh received the maximum sentence of five years in prison. After setting the courthouse ablaze and temporarily forcing the judge and suspect into hiding, crowds targeted churches.
Muslim leaders in Indonesia expressed regret at the rioting. More than 200 Indonesian churches have been burned or vandalized since 1991, including 10 Protestant churches one Sunday morning in June (CT, Sept. 16, 1996, p. 112). According to International Christian Concern, the government has not brought charges against any rioters involved in the June incident.
About 85 percent of Indonesia's population is Muslim, with more adherents to Islam than any other country.1
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