By Lucille Talusan
Courtesy of CWN News
August 31, 2007
CWN.com - CENTRAL SULAWESi, Indonesia - Religious violence has devastated the Indonesian territory of Central Sulawesi for more than a decade.
Christians and Muslims have attacked each other's communities, and sometimes killed each other.
But critics say Muslims who are tried for such crimes are given lesser sentences than Christians.
CWN's Asia correspondent, Lucille Talusan, looked into this seeming injustice.
Days before the sentencing of their brother, Edwin, Sustin and Neki Poima expressed great concern over his fate.
Edwin is one of 17 Christians arrested for the murder of two Muslims last September.
They allegedly took revenge for the deaths of three Catholics whom they believe were unjustly executed for murdering Muslims.
"We ask the government to make the sentence light," said Edwin's sister, Neki Poima. "Our parents are already old and they need Edwin to help our father on the farm."
Sustin and Neki feared the worst: that their brother- like the three Catholics before him - would also be executed for his crime.
That's because many Christians believe Indonesia's justice system favors Muslims over Christians.
Muslims, they say, receive lighter sentences than Christians when they commit similar or more serious offenses.
One example of this biased treatment can be seen when looking further into the incident with the Catholics.
The three Catholics - Tibo, Riwu and Da Silva - whose roles in the 2000 Muslim massacre were never proven, received the death sentence.
The Muslim extremists who beheaded three Christian schoolgirls were only given jail terms of twenty years. The court said they were spared execution because they confessed to the crime and expressed remorse.
Another high-profile case shows the same preferential treatment.
Christians say Rinaldy Damanik, a pastor who promotes peace between warring Christians and Muslims, also experienced injustice at the hands of the courts.
He was sentenced to three years imprisonment in 2003 for a crime they say he did not commit. Damanik was convicted of illegally possessing ammunition.
In contrast, Muslim leader Jafar Umar Thalib was never indicted for his alleged crime.
He admitted having initiated the jihad in Maluku, where 5,000 Christians were killed in the year 2000.
In an exclusive interview with CBN News, the Islamic leader said he escaped imprisonment because he hadn't broken any law.
"At that time, many Muslims were being killed by the separatist movement Republic of South Moluccas which was dominated by Christians," Thalib told CBN. "I mobilized jihad against the RMS and not against Christians. The government was not doing anything, and so in Indonesian law, it was self-defense.
Rev. Rinaldy Damanik shared a drastically different view of the situation.
"It is really, really unfair. Jafar Thalib led jihad in Maluku, killing 5,000 people, and he never went to court," Damanik said. "While me, I was sentenced for three years because they say I brought ammunition. Even if that was true, I don't think it is fair for me to get three years in prison."
Thalib disagrees with the notion that Muslims receive more favorable treatment than Christians in Indonesia's justice system.
"In reality, Muslims feel they are oppressed in our justice system," Thalib expressed. "This is why it is easy for them to fall to Jemaah Islamiyah and believe in their ideology, but unfortunately, they are misled."
But this summer, Muslim convicts received reduced sentences to mark Indonesia's independence day.
Sentence reductions by up to five months were granted to 10 Islamic militants involved in the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings.
Families of the more than 200 victims wondered why the terrorists' sentences were cut when they had only been given 8 to 18 years in the first place.
As for Sustin and Neki, they were overjoyed when they recently learned that their brother Edwin was spared from the death penalty. A court sentenced him to 14 years in prison instead.
God responded to their prayers.
Now they say they want their brother to respond to God.
"We hope that through this case, our brother and all 17 of them will know God more," Sustin and Neki shared. "We hope they will repent and ask forgiveness from God."
With Edwin and companions getting a fairly favorable decision from the court, Indonesians, both Christians and Muslims, are hoping to see a more balanced and credible justice system in Indonesia in the coming days.