11/26/2005, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Poso bishop declares Catholics' death sentence unjust

Mgr Suwatan has come out in defence of three men convicted of igniting clashes between Christians and Muslims in Poso in 2000; the bishop said the Catholics were victims and not instigators of the violence and that the death penalty was excessive. Manado Diocese is praying for that the sentence be overturned.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/UCAN) – The three Catholics condemned to death for the violence which hit in Poso in 2000 are innocent and should not be executed, says the Manado bishop. Mgr Joseph 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.

The diocese of Mgr Suwatan 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 2,000 lives. 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 last, 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.

Mgr 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.

The parish priest of St Theresa, Fr Jimmy Tumbelaka, goes often to visit the three Christians in prison. He also met Hasyim Muzadi, president of the Nahdlatul Ulama – Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation – who has declared himself willing to support the cause. The parish priest intends to speak to the apostolic nuncio in Indonesia, Mgr Malcolm Ranjith, "to see what can be done".

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