Prison for a peacemaker


Issue: "50 family-friendly movies," June 28, 2003

Indonesian judges last week sentenced a key peacemaker between Muslims and Christians to three years in prison for weapons possession. Rinaldy Damanik, an Indonesian pastor, was found guilty despite evidence that police tortured witnesses for the prosecution in order to obtain their testimony.

Mr. Damanik assisted both Christians and Muslims fleeing the troubled Poso area during the height of Muslim-Christian violence last year. He was traveling in a relief convoy on Aug. 17, 2002, when police stopped him for questioning. The following day, they announced they had found illegal weapons in the vehicle.

During the bloody sectarian conflict that ravaged Central Sulawesi, where Poso is located, Mr. Damanik and his team from the Central Sulawesi Christian Church became well known in the Poso district for their readiness to enter hostile areas and evacuate innocent civilians. In 2001, a group of local Christians and Muslims, including Mr. Damanik, signed the Malino Peace Accord, which was supposed to end three years of hostilities in the province. The fighting, however, continued.

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In August 2002, a group vowing jihad against Christians attacked several Christian villages in Poso district. Mr. Damanik and members of his crisis team evacuated people from those villages beginning Aug. 16. The next day an angry Muslim mob awaited them. They accused the Christian workers of threatening members of the Muslim community in nearby Peleru. The local police became involved-followed soon after by the military-and, in an apparent effort to placate the crowd, made a show of searching the team's vehicles.

The following day, the police announced to local press that hand-made weapons were found in Mr. Damanik's car. Legal experts who testified at the trial on Mr. Damanik's behalf said police violated criminal law procedures, searching Mr. Damanik's car without a warrant, and failing to inform Mr. Damanik of the result of the search and request his signature confirming their finding.

Christians say the conviction of Mr. Damanik is "a brazen attempt" to scapegoat the pastor and the Christian community in general as the perpetrators of the Poso conflict, according to Ann Buwalda of Jubilee Campaign. More troubling, the plot against Mr. Damanik seems to have had the full support of both the regional and the national police, she said.

Judges ruling in the case say they will take into account time served, reducing Mr. Damanik's remaining jail sentence to two years and four months. -


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