06/12/2007, 00.00
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Three Christian teachers accused of proselytism are freed

Sentence reduced by a year for “good behaviour” after they had spent almost two years in prison. Islamic extremists threat protests outside prison.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – After almost two years in detention, Rebecca Loanita, Etty Pangesti and Ratna Mala Bangun, the three teachers accused of proselytising have been released thanks to a reduction in their sentences.  The news was broken by the internet site Compass Direct News, which reported a great crowd had gathered outside the prison in Indramayu, West Java, to greet the three women on June 8th last.

Rebecca and her two colleagues ran a Sunday school in their community in Indramayu. On September 1st 2005, they were judged guilty of having violated the 2002 child protection law by attempting to convert Muslim children to Christianity.  The sentence passed was three years in prison.  During the trial, which lasted over 4 months, Islamic extremists attempted in various ways to influence the court's decision.  The sentence was described as “unjust” by numerous human rights organisations: the schools activities were aimed primarily at Christian children, the Muslim children present at the school had been given the express permission by the Guardian of Muslim students.   

Thanks to a strong international campaign for their release, the three women received a reduction in their sentences for “good behaviour”, but they will continue to be super5vised until February 2008.

Their released was anticipated for security reasons; Islamic fundamentalists had threatened to gather in protest in front of the prison.

Witnesses report that the three women “appeared in good health, happy and deeply moved”.  The teachers had built up close relationships with their fellow detainees, with whom they shared their food and moments of prayer; many of whom cried on seeing the women leave the prison.


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