Bishop calls for justice, prayer as three Catholics face death penalty in Indonesia

.- Three Catholic men, who’s execution has been delayed twice before, are now scheduled to be executed Thursday in Indonesia.  An Indonesian bishop, however, says there is still hope that a new appeal for clemency might be approved.

Bishop Joseph Suwatan told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), today, that he is “still praying for a miracle” just hours before they are due to go before a firing squad.

Fabianus Tibo, Marianus Riwu and Dominggus da Silva were convicted of leading a Christian militia that was involved in a series of attacks on Muslims in May 2000 on the island of Sulawesi. The attacks allegedly included a gun and machete assault that killed 70 Muslims who had taken refuge in an Islamic school.

The incident was one of the bloodiest in two years of fighting between Muslim and Christian gangs on the island. At least 1,000 people from both faiths were killed and tens of thousands were left homeless.

Only a handful of people have been convicted in the attacks, and the three Christians are the only ones to have been sentenced to death. Officials appear to have concluded all investigations.

"If we are talking about fairness, all the perpetrators from both sides should be sentenced to death," the men’s lawyer, Roy Rening, was quoted as saying.

The three Christians have appealed to the Indonesian president for clemency and Catholic leaders have called on Indonesia to stay the execution. The execution was stayed last month after demonstrations by thousands of Indonesians and the Pope's appeal.

Local Islamic militants are calling for the men to be executed, but Christian groups insist the men are being made scapegoats.

While some groups are ratcheting up protests and demonstrations to stop the executions, many feel the sentence will be carried out this time.

Yet, ACN reports, Bishop Suwatan continues to hope for a last minute reprieve.  “The new date for execution is serious… but we must keep on appealing on their behalf. We do not agree with this execution and we must continue to say that there is new evidence and more time is needed to search for the truth,” said the bishop.

Suwatan said the case for an appeal against their conviction was too strong to be ignored.

The bishop said, however, that circumstances have changed since August, when the Pope’s appeal was heard.  He noted that while much of the unrest stirred by comments the Pope made about Islam last week has calmed, that many hard-line Islam leaders are still demanding agitation.  Suwatan also said that Indonesian authorities may wish to resolve the matter before the Muslim season of Ramadan begins.

Bishop Suwatan called on the world to pray for the three men and highlighted a “prayer session” taking place in Rome involving three Indonesian bishops.  “It may be that a miracle could happen and we must pray for that.”

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