- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian Christians, deeply troubled by the executions of three Christians last week, say they are watching closely to see whether the government will be equally firm in dealing with three Muslims facing the ultimate sanction for their roles in the 2002 Bali bombings.

Unless Muslims and Christians are treated equally, they say, there could be a fresh outbreak of sectarian violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives on the island of Sulawesi between 1998 and 2002.

All weekend, Christians across the Indonesian archipelago exchanged telephone text messages requesting prayers for the souls of Fabianus Tibo, Domingus da Silva and Marianus Riwu, who were executed by a firing squad before dawn on Friday.

The simmering tensions were punctuated over the weekend by two small bombs in Poso, a small town at the epicenter of the sectarian violence, where the colorful flowers and abundant coconut palms provide an illusion of calm.

The three executed men had participated in a May 2000 attack on a Muslim school that left 191 persons dead, propelling a slumbering conflict between Christians and Muslims on the lush spice island of Sulawesi into open war.

But Christians, who make up about 8 percent of the population, say the courts have been less aggressive in prosecuting Muslims for similar attacks, noting that only a handful have been convicted and none has been sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.

“Another question is why these three farmers were sentenced to death and were executed, while the real culprits responsible are still alive,” said Regina Astuti, a lawyer with the Legal Aid and Human Rights Association.

“Mr. Tibo named 16 former military and police officers he considered responsible for killing Muslims. These people were never called to the witness stand.”

Christian pressure groups now are focusing their attention on three Muslims — Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, Mukhlas Samudra and Imam Samudra — who have been sentenced to death for the Oct. 12, 2002, bombings in Bali, which killed 202 persons.

The last deadline for their execution passed without comment, and a new date is unlikely to be set while a defense request for a new trial is pending.

“The first question is trying to find an answer about the death penalty in Indonesia in general terms, and more broadly, about justice in this country,” said Dewi Sularca, a consultant with a European nongovernmental organization.

Dozens of men were arrested and tried for the Bali bombings, most receiving sentences of up to 30 years. But some received amnesties on the national holiday six weeks ago, causing anger in Australia, home to 88 of the victims.

Canberra was also upset because the pardons and reduced sentences did not extend to Australians and other foreigners in Indonesia’s prisons. Four young Australian drug dealers have been sentenced to face a firing squad.

Azyumardi Azra, rector of the Islamic University of Jakarta, argues that the Sulawesi and Bali cases should not be linked.

“In the case of the Christians executed in Sulawesi, religious sentiments were very strong,” he said. “That was not and is not the case in the Bali trials. There are no Islamic groups defending the authors of the Bali slaughter.”

In a television interview, Vice President Jusuf Kalla also said last week’s executions had no religious dimension. “They were the result of our judicial system,” he said. “This is the way we work in Indonesia.”

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