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Justice in Indonesia’s Religious Conflicts Appears Uneven

by Sarah Page

4/4/07 Indonesia (Compass Direct News) – Justice dispensed in Indonesia ’s religious conflicts seems to favor Muslims over Christians following relatively light sentences given to three Muslim extremists who beheaded three Christian high school girls in Poso, Central Sulawesi .

On Monday (April 2), less than two weeks after an Indonesian court sentenced the extremists to prison terms of only 14 to 20 years, 12 Christians went on trial for murdering two Muslims. The murders took place during the unrest that followed the September 22, 2006 execution of three Catholics – Fabianus Tibo, Marinus Riwu and Dominggus da Silva – whose roles in a 2000 Muslim massacre were far less clear than that of the extremists who beheaded the schoolgirls.

In the beheadings case, an Indonesian court on March 21 sentenced Hasanuddin (who goes by a single name) to 20 years and Irwanto Irano and Lilik Purnomo to 14 years each. The men could have received the death sentence, but Judge Udar Siregar said he treated the defendants leniently because they confessed to the crime and expressed remorse. He also cited their cooperation with authorities.

Their victims, randomly selected as a “sacrificial gift” for the Muslim festival of Idul Fitri in October 2005, were Ida Yarni Sambue, 15, Theresia Morangke, 16, and Alfita Poliwo, 19. A fourth girl, then-15-year-old Noviana Malewa, survived the attack but received deep machete wounds to her face and neck. (See Compass Direct News, “Extremist Confesses to Murder of Christians,” January 19.)

The 34-year-old Hasanuddin, who led the Poso subdivision of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a terrorist network spanning all of southeast Asia, initiated the plan – while 29-year-old Irano and 28-year-old Purnomo staked out the route used by the girls, bought the machetes and dropped the girls’ heads at various locations in and around Poso.

Purnomo had also confessed to the shooting of Christian lawyer Ferry Silalahi; involvement in the shooting of the Rev. Susianty Tinulele; the bombing of Immanuel church; and the beheading of a Christian village chief in Poso.

Hasanuddin, Irano and Purnomo were arrested in May 2006. Their confessions directed police to a number of Islamic terror cells based in Poso, run by JI and an affiliated group, the Mujahidin Kompak.

Police negotiated for months with JI and Kompak leaders, hoping for the voluntary surrender of at least 24 suspects. When negotiations failed, they launched two raids on JI cells in January.

In the murder of two Muslims last September, the 12 Christians were charged after violent protests that broke out following the executions of Tibo, Riwu and da Silva. The brief outbursts that followed the disputed convictions and executions sparked fears of renewed sectarian violence.

Conflict between Muslim and Christian communities in Central Sulawesi erupted in 2000 and continued until a peace agreement was signed in December 2001. Sporadic violence has continued since then, with the majority of victims being Christians.

Christians Charged with Murder

Christians had lobbied against the executions of Tibo, Riwu and da Silva, pointing out that no Muslims had been prosecuted or punished for their role in the 2000-2001 conflict.

Human rights organizations, along with religious and political leaders, protested that the trial of the three Catholics was unfair.

In the case of the 12 Christians on trial for murder in the unrest that followed the executions, prosecutor Pudji Rahardjo claims the defendants took revenge into their own hands and created an illegal roadblock near Poleganyara village in Poso regency on September 23, 2006. They allegedly seized Muslim Arham Badaruddin and his assistant Wandi from a passing car and beat them savagely before slashing their necks.

The defendants could face execution if convicted, according to The Jakarta Post.

Defense lawyer Elvis Katuwu, however, has said his team would throw out the prosecution’s case and prove that the use of anti-terror laws is inappropriate.

Judge Achmad Sobari has adjourned the hearing until April 12.

Police Raids Inflame Tensions

The arrest of several Islamic militants last year led police to a number of terror cells responsible for violence, but authorities still disagree over the causes of ongoing tension and possible solutions.

Raids on Muslim extremist outposts have heightened tensions.

Based on information provided by Hasanuddin and others, police on January 11 launched a raid on a complex in Tanah Runtuh, a sub-district of Poso , that resulted in three deaths and four arrests. A second raid on January 22 resulted in 14 deaths and 22 arrests, sparking outrage in the Muslim community.

Police managed to arrest several of the men on their wanted list, but others escaped and their whereabouts remain unknown.

Muslim leaders reacted strongly to the raids, claiming excessive force and religious discrimination.

Police shot one militant, known only as Basri, in the stomach during the January 22 raid. Basri was later arrested and confessed to involvement in 17 sectarian attacks in Poso and Palu, including the beheading of the three teenage girls, according to local media reports. Basri said the attacks were carried out in revenge for the deaths of 26 of his relatives during the 2000-2001 conflict.

Basri said JI leaders told him that surrender to police was haram, or forbidden under Islamic law. The leaders also gave him permission to kill security personnel because they were thogut, or enemies of Islam.

According to Basri, a number of JI teachers at Tanah Runtuh, trained in the Philippines and Afghanistan , had spread extremist ideology and taught bomb-making skills. Basri and other recruits took an oath of secrecy with JI teachers in 2003 before joining weekly indoctrination sessions that focused extensively on the need for jihad or holy war against unbelievers.

Basri and several other militants detained in the January raids claimed they were brainwashed by JI. “I was like a buffalo with a ring through my nose,” Basri told The Associated Press.

Another militant arrested with Basri, Muhammad Ardi, a member of Mujahidin Kompak, was involved in the shooting of the Rev. Susianty Tinulele, and the bombing of Immanuel and Anugerah churches in Central Sulawesi , according to The Jakarta Post.

An extremist known only as Aat, also arrested with Basri, admitted to leaving a bomb in the crowded Christian market of Tentena in May 2005, killing 20 people.

A recent AP article quoted former JI leader Nasir Abbas, now turned police informer, who said these recruits “were gangsters seized upon by these preachers, who told them what they were doing was good, legal and justified by Allah.”

Police also uncovered arsenals at two Muslim boarding schools in Tanah Runtuh and nearby Kayamanya districts, run by JI affiliates and staffed by JI teachers. The arsenal included 39 homemade bombs of the type used in the Bali bombing attacks of 2002, and military-issue automatic pistols.

Debating Solutions

Authorities differ over the causes of ongoing conflict and possible solutions. Some cite buried grievances, crime rings and corruption; others, however, say Islamic terrorists have capitalized on past grievances to advance their own agenda.

JI’s stated ambition is to create a Muslim “caliphate” through Indonesia , Malaysia , Singapore , Thailand , Australia and the Philippines .

A recent report from the International Crisis Group (ICG) confirmed that violence in Central Sulawesi is directly linked to JI operatives.

The ICG report said a number of JI militants in Poso received training on the neighboring island of Ambon during the late 1990s before being sent to Poso.

Sectarian conflict raged in Ambon from 1998 to 2001 but died down after key perpetrators were arrested. Sidney Jones, southeast Asia project director for ICG, believes the conflict in Poso can also be resolved if the masterminds are apprehended and punished. If not, communal violence could easily resurface.

“People are still traumatized and frustrated by the unresolved cases from 2000, when Muslims were butchered in Poso,” Jones told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday (April 4). “If such sentiments prevail among Muslims in Poso, they will be easy targets for recruitment.”

Until recently, police in Central Sulawesi feared retribution if they acted against largely-Muslim terrorist cells operating in Poso and Palu. The first breakthrough came when Islamic militants arrested last year began to confess their crimes, encouraging police to take positive action.

Following the January police raids, however, JI leaders declared police and security personnel to be anti-Islamic, marking them as “legitimate” JI targets.

On March 13, Asia Times reported that new JI operatives were arriving in Poso from the southern Philippines flushed out by U.S.-backed counter-terrorism sweeps. The recent arrests in Poso have also galvanized well-known terrorists such as Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, convicted for his involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings. Ba’asyir has called on all Muslims serving in counter-terrorism forces in Poso to quit their positions.

Ba’asyir continues to deny the existence of JI, despite all evidence to the contrary.

But Ansjad Mbai, head of the anti-terror desk at the Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, strongly believes the violence in Poso is the work of JI terrorists.

As an example, he pointed to Uztadz Ryan, originally the leader of a JI cell in Solo, Central Java , who was killed in the January 11 police raid at Tanah Runtuh, Poso. Authorities have proof that Ryan contracted a JI member to kill the Rev. Irianto Kongkoli in Poso in October 2006 for the sum of 200,000 rupiah (US$22).

“People tend to turn a blind eye to these facts,” Mbai told The Jakarta Post. “They blame injustice, unsettled corruption cases, disappointment among refugees – all of which are valid. But terrorists … keep religious issues alive in order to recruit mujahid (warriors) and win public sympathy.”

The issue is further complicated, Mbai told the Post, when “people refrain from discussing terrorism for fear that it will hurt followers of a certain religion … The biggest question now is whether this nation admits that the Poso conflict is the work of terrorists.”

Mbai also said consistent law enforcement was the key to ending the conflict in Poso and added that judges need public support to avoid being intimidated.

“Our anti-terror law is the most lenient one in the world,” Mbai told the Post. “Even in European democracies, the anti-terror law allows the police to detain a terror suspect for four years without trial. Their law can reach the masterminds, but ours cannot.”