Pope Benedict XVI, Amnesty International (AI), and Christian and Muslim human rights groups have called for clemency for three Roman Catholics facing execution today in Indonesia's embattled Central Sulawesi province.
Authorities arrested Fabianus Tibo, 60, Dominggus da Silva, 42, and Marinus Riwu, 48, in 2000 for homicides and sectarian strife during a 1999 spate of violence in Poso. In 2001, a regional court sentenced them to death. Two stays of execution later, on August 8, the prosecutor sent the men's families notice that the three would be executed by firing squad August 12. Hours before their execution, however, government officials announced another delay. Their status remains in limbo, as Central Sulawesi's chief prosecutor, responsible for setting the execution date, was fired August 22.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono faces pressure from Islamists who favor executing the three Christians and oppose punishing three Muslim terrorists who confessed to the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, mostly tourists. Meanwhile, groups such as AI have protested the verdict. During the trial, demonstrators armed with stones demanded the death penalty for the Christians. AI reported that the Christians' legal team endured intimidation, including death threats. A bomb was planted at the house of one legal adviser.
Jeff Hammond, the Jakarta-based director of Bless Indonesia Today, a Christian foundation, has been involved with efforts to stay the execution and persuade the government to conduct a full review of the case. He told CT, "Those who understand the case and the issues are strongly against the execution, believing that a great injustice has been done and that it is planned for political expediency to balance the executions of the Bali bombers."
Christians and Muslims lived in harmony in Central Sulawesi for generations until the late 1990s, said Ann Buwalda, director of Jubilee Campaign USA, a Christian advocacy group. The Poso conflict erupted in late 1999 when a Muslim politician lost an election and provoked Poso's sectarian differences. Christians and Muslims alike responded with violence, which included burning homes, mosques, and churches. Some 1,000 people lost their lives, the vast majority of them Christians. The men scheduled to be executed were part of a militia that defended Poso's Christians.
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