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Christian Today – Christian Freedom International has called on the Indonesian government to release three Sunday school teachers imprisoned after being tried and convicted of converting Muslim children to Christianity in early September.

Dr. Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun were convicted of “attempting to coerce children to change their religion” under the Indonesian “Child Protection Act” on September 1 and sentenced to three years.

The three women ran a popular Sunday school programme attended by around 100 Christian students and by some Muslim children on the verbal consent of their guardians.

The president of Christian Freedom International Jim Jacobson went to visit the women in the Indramayu district of West Java. He warned that “under the Children Protection Act and other regulations, no Christian is safe in Indonesia . This case should be a wake-up call for all caring Christians.”

According to a CFI press release, Dr. Zakaria said her first reaction on hearing of her sentence was to cry.

The press release also gave details of the accommodation of the women in a ‘cramped’, ‘dirty’ prison with 437 inmates, only 16 of whom are women. The women sleep together in cells 5m by 5m holding eight, but without beds or blankets.

“We have to pay money to the guards to turn the water on to the toilet in our cell,” said Dr. Zakaria. “I wake up at 5 a.m. every day to pray and read my Bible ‘til 7.30. At 8 they open the [cell] doors,” she said. After the cell doors are opened the women are allowed into a 10m by 10m room until 4pm when they must return to the cells.

“We eat breakfast, lunch, dinner in that room on the floor. No dining room. We get a small portion of lamb once a week,” described Dr. Zakaria. The mainstay of the diet is rice and soybean mixture which the women receive three times a day.

Remarkably, Dr. Zakaria is allowed to lead a Sunday worship service in a small outdoor courtyard within the prison where around 35 people from her church are allowed to enter to participate.

The small Sunday congregation also includes one male inmate who recently converted to Christianity, bringing the total number of Christian inmates at the prison to seven.

“This is a ‘School of Trust Bible School’. Not a jail,” said Dr. Zakaria. “Sometimes I am depressed, but not for long. God comforts me everyday with joy and peace. I pray for the other prisoners and guards.”

She welcomed the new convert saying, “We share our faith with others.”

The three women have so far served 140 days of their three year sentences. Dr Zakaria said: “I want to do God’s will. I hope to be released soon.”

She also said of those responsible for putting her in jail: “I am not angry at the people who brought the charges against me. I forgive them. I bless them.”

Eti Pangesti also expressed her forgiveness: “I had a dream of going home. I am depressed sometimes. I am not angry about being here. My accusers didn’t understand.”

Dr. Zakaria told Mr Jacobson: “I want people to know about our situation. I want prayer support. I was surprised so happily that American Christians were so interested in our case. Please pray for us.”

Christian Freedom International has also called upon the U.S. government to exert pressure on the Indonesian government in an attempt to bring about the immediate release of the women.