09/06/2005, 00.00
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Three Christian women jailed for 'proselytising'

The women were accused of trying to convert Muslim children. The sentence was pronounced after four months of constants threats from Muslim extremists.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Three women charged with violating Indonesia's 2002 Child Protection Act by trying to convert Muslim children were found guilty on all charges in an Indonesian court and sentenced to three years in jail. The verdict against Rebecca Loanita, Etty Pangesti e Ratna Mala Bangun was pronounced on September 1 after four months of trial during which Muslim extremists tried to intimidate and influence the judges.

The charges against the three women were brought by the so-called the Indonesian Council of Mullahs which claimed they tried to convert Muslim children at a Happy Weekend event.

The three women had organised a week-end of songs, games and outings for Christian children alone, an element that their attorneys had stressed but that the court in Indramavu (West Java) chose to disregard it on the grounds that non-Christian children were present.

Muslim extremists were present at the trial hearings where they tried to intimidate the judges.

The women's attorneys said that the decision was influenced by the constant threats and not any legal merit the case might have had. No Muslim child was converted and none was forced to attend.

What is more, the extremists released a statement to the press calling on the court to impose the death penalty on the women.

Eyewitnesses present at the sentence hearing said that the same extremists arrived carrying a casket shouting that they would bury the three women if they were not found guilty.

After the decision was read and sentence passed, the crowd in the courthouse broke out in shouts of "Allahu akbar" (God is greater).

The defence now has only a week to launch an appeal to a higher court.

Under the 2002 Child Protection Act, it is unlawful to use "deception, lies and incitement" to convert a child to another religion.

The law provides for a maximum five-year sentence and a fine of just over US$ 10,000.

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