Indonesia must protect Christians, says human rights group

.- In the aftermath of the executions of three Catholic men, Christian Freedom International said the Indonesian government must protect Christians.

The U.S.-based human rights group says the allegedly unfair trial of the three Catholic men and their execution Sept. 22 is the tip of the iceberg regarding injustices toward Christians in the Asian country.

Government authorities throughout Indonesia have often tolerated abuse against Christians, conducted by private citizens. The human-rights group cites a State Department report, which says that while Indonesia promotes religious freedom in theory, the government has failed to punish those who perpetrate abuse against religious groups.

“Mobs have regularly destroyed churches and other Christian facilities around Indonesia, with no one ever punished,” said Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom Insternational. “Out of fear of retaliation local officials often refuse to allow congregations to rebuild.”

Last fall, Christian Freedom International reported that an Islamist group, whose name translates into the Anti-Apostasy Alliance Movement, had used intimidation to close at least 35 churches on the island of Java, on which Jakarta is located. Christians remain equally vulnerable elsewhere.

The government bans proselytizing and recently adopted new rules making it virtually impossible to open a church in a non-Christian neighborhood. The human-rights group also claims that Christians are less likely to receive government benefits and jobs, and more likely to face extortion and intimidation because the police and judiciary often do not protect non-Muslims.

The government of Indonesia executed three Christians on September 22, 2006, for their alleged role in fighting on the island of Sulawesi six years ago. Crowds rioted over the weekend on several islands in protest.

Several rights groups hold that the conviction of the men was influenced by pressure from Islamic radicals.  Isabelle Cartron of Amnesty International reports: “The men’s lawyers received death threats, including a bomb planted at one lawyer’s house, and demonstrators armed with stones outside the courthouse demanded that the three be sentenced to death.”

And Christian Freedom International says the conviction of the men is not the only case where Islamic extremists have threatened the courts. A year ago three Sunday School teachers were convicted of the “Christianization” of Muslim children who had attended classes with the permission of their parents. The women’s trial was highlighted by mob calls for their deaths.

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