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Indonesia Court Reviews Death Row Case of Christians

By BosNewsLife News

Christian rights watchers said Thursday, March 9, they were “cautiously optimistic” that three Christians on death row may escape execution after a court in religiously tense Central Sulawesi province granted a judicial review.

“This was a surprising development because the court had rejected the defendants’ earlier request for a review two years ago,” said human rights group Jubilee Campaign USA in a statement to BosNewsLife. The decision was made amid mounting international pressure from members of the US Congress and a letter campaign launched by human rights groups.

The case review hearing for Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marianus Riwu, who were jailed in April 2001, was held at the district court in the provincial capital of Palu, Thursday, March 9, court official Andi Rusman told reporters.

Based on what Jubilee Campaign described as “shaky evidence” the men were found guilty of inciting some of the violence between Christians and Muslims which resulted in at least 1,000 deaths in Central Sulawesi ‘s Poso region between 2000 and 2001.

SECOND REVIEW

The trio were granted a second review even though their first was rejected in March 2004. Under Indonesian law, a review hearing can be held for death row inmates if lawyers unearth fresh evidence.

Legal aid group PADMA reportedly said last month it had evidence showing that 16 people — and not the three men — had masterminded the violence.

The unexpected turnaround came after media quoted Central Sulawesi police chief Oegroseno as saying last week that the men would be shot by a firing squad this month since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had refused to pardon them last year.

“CAUTIOUSLY” OPTIMISTIC

“Christian observers in Central Sulawesi are cautiously optimistic. [They are] optimistic because the review is taking place at all [but] cautious because it is taking place in Palu, which is known as a hotbed of Islamic extremist activity,” said Jubilee Campaign USA , which has investigated the situation.

Although a government-brokered truce went into force, bombings, shootings and other attacks targeting Christians have continued in Poso and other areas.

Tensions rose further since October 29, 2005 when three school girls were found beheaded near Poso. The girls, students at Central Sulawesi Christian Church were apparently killed by six unidentified assailants while on their way to class. Soon after, on November 8, two schoolgirls were shot

Muslim extremists are believed linked to them, rights groups say. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim- populated nation, but analysts suggest that Christians and Muslims live in roughly equal numbers in parts of the eastern island chain of Sulawesi and in Maluku.