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ICC Note:

Catholic priest sends a letter to the President of Indonesia saying that he is “ready to die for the freedom of the three Catholics” facing the death penalty for allegedly sparking religious violence in Poso in 2000.

AsiaNews (04/13/06) – An Indonesian Catholic priest is ready to give his life to save Tibo and his two friends, who are on death row in Palu, central Sulawesi . From Rome , where he is studying, Fr Leonardus Mali , from the archdiocese of Kupang, province of Nusa Tenggara Timur , sent a letter to the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, declaring he is “ready to die for the freedom of the three Catholics”.

Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marinus Riwu, have been condemned to death for violence that took place in Poso in 2000, amid a long-running conflict between the Muslim and Christian communities. Fr Mali said: “The Poso conflict is a complicated story. I am sorry to learn that the forces of security and justice do not want to reveal what happened and are insisting on framing illiterate peasants as masterminds of the whole event.”

Fr Mali ’s offer found great support among the country’s youth, especially university students. Yesterday, members of the University Indonesia (UI) launched a campaign for Tibo. The initiative includes the unfurling of a long banner, where all those for the release of the three convicts will sign their name; organizers are expecting at least one million signatures.

Not everyone, however, was in favour of Fr Mali ’s statement. Fr Norbert Bethan, member of PADMA – the group of lawyers defending Tibo and friends – said the priest’s offer was “out of place” and dangerous, because “it could give the impression that the three men are truly guilty”. Their innocence should be legally upheld.

Hopes have shot up once again after the statement of the police chief of central Sulawesi , Brigadier General Oegroseno, on the necessity of calling off the execution to conduct new investigations. A while ago, Tibo identified 16 people as being the true perpetrators of the 2000 violence, about whom the defence is calling for further inquiries. Yesterday the deputy Attorney General for generic crimes, Prasetyo SH, said the sentence “will not be executed soon”, if Tibo must be interrogated.

Meanwhile, speculation is rife about the reasons why Oegroseno, who for weeks had been announcing preparations for the execution squad, changed his mind. Some think it was because of “orders from higher up”; but the police headquarters in Jakarta had nothing to say. The deputy spokesperson merely reiterated: “The execution is in the hands of the Attorney General”. And he, for the moment, remains determined to execute Tibo and friends.