christian peacemaker released after help from muslims - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
November 10, 2004

Christian peacemaker released after help from Muslims

-10/11/04

Rinaldy Damanik, a Christian peacemaker imprisoned in Indonesia on what many believe were false charges, has walked free a year earlier than his original release date after Muslim advocates paved the way for his early release.

Upon his release Damanik urged that Christians forgive, bless and pray for their enemies.

Damanik was a prominent figure in peace negotiations between warring Muslim and Christian communities on the island of Sulawesi. He was convicted on charges of "illegal weapons possession" in June 2003 and sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

He was a signatory of the Malino peace agreement in December 2001 and has worked hard to end the violence. He has also been an outspoken critic of the police's handling of violence, which many feel to be the real reason for his arrest.

Witnesses in court said they were tortured by police and forced to give false evidence. Judge Somanada admitted that many irregularities had occurred during the alleged discovery of the weapons and during the trial, but he still delivered a guilty verdict.

Earlier in the year Damanik became extremely ill, frequently collapsing with a high fever. In urgent need of ultrasound the authorities would not let him have. However, after the amazing and unexpected intervention of a senior Muslim cleric, who said he was told to help the Christian in a vision, officials let him travel for treatment.

The cleric, Idrus. R. al Habsy, also became a staunch advocate for Damanik's release after hearing about his campaign for peace. On August 20, the elderly cleric wrote to the Minister of Justice and Human Rights declaring Damanik to be a "man of good character" who "should be allowed to go free."

Idrus then passed away on August 23 from a serious illness. However, his actions paved the way for Damanik's early release.

When Damanik was brought out of the prison he spoke briefly with reporters before leaving with his family. He planned to stay in Palu overnight to attend a church meeting in his new capacity as president of the Christian Church of Central Sulawesi (GKST or Gereja Kristen Sulawesi Tengah), before traveling back to Tentena, his home town, on November 10.

Damanik was elected president of the GKST Synod on October 17, while he was still in prison.

Speaking to the press, Damanik expressed gratitude to all who had supported him during his arrest and imprisonment.

During his time in prison, Damanik received a total of 26,866 letters and cards from Christians all over the world. Many of these came in response to an Open Doors letter-writing campaign.

Damanik asked his daughter Nanda to record all the letters received, and said he made an effort to read each and every one, although some letters were written in foreign languages.

"I'm no hero," he said. "I'm just a normal human being. If there are any injustices being done by the government, I will again voice my opinion against it. I don't have any agenda -- I'll just keep doing the same thing I did before.

"But there are two things I'd like to do if I could. First of all, I'd like to meet the refugees at different refugee camps to thank them for supporting me.

"Secondly, I'd like to thank all those who have written to me and encouraged me in the prison. All the people, including children, who sent me letters, cards, band-aids, lotion for my skin, and little chocolates with Scriptures written on them -- you really touched my heart.

"I was amazed at the children who sent me pictures of trees and clouds and beautiful blue sky. Maybe they knew I couldn't see those things in the prison."

Damanik also had clear opinions on the sectarian conflict in Sulawesi, which began in the late 1990s. "From the beginning, I've said this is not a religious conflict. The real causes are the injustices we live with -- for example, corruption and favouritism, which are not being addressed or handled wisely by the government. This has prolonged the conflict."

Damanik can now look forward to resuming his work with the GKST Crisis Centre, which provides help to both Muslim and Christian victims of sectarian violence.

Commenting on the response Christians should have to the violence, Damanik said the church needed to pray and bless her enemies. However, he stated, "We also need to show we are not cowards in facing this injustice. I'm not saying we should express our anger in revenge, but we need to speak the truth in love.

"Finally, we Christians should look at ourselves in the mirror and see what faults we have before pointing the finger at others. We need to clean up our own house first."

As he left the prison on November 9, Damanik once again expressed his commitment to peace. He also said he would encourage the church to deal with its own faults, and ask them to extend forgiveness to those who had wronged them.

Some have expressed fears that Damanik may become the next target of mysterious killers who have murdered at least six Christians and wounded 11 more on the island since April. The victims include Ferry Silalahi, who represented Damanik in court and was shot in May; and Rev. Susianty Tinulele, who visited Damanik in prison two days before she was shot during a church service on July 18.

Christian peacemaker released after help from Muslims

-10/11/04

Rinaldy Damanik, a Christian peacemaker imprisoned in Indonesia on what many believe were false charges, has walked free a year earlier than his original release date after Muslim advocates paved the way for his early release.

Upon his release Damanik urged that Christians forgive, bless and pray for their enemies.

Damanik was a prominent figure in peace negotiations between warring Muslim and Christian communities on the island of Sulawesi. He was convicted on charges of "illegal weapons possession" in June 2003 and sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

He was a signatory of the Malino peace agreement in December 2001 and has worked hard to end the violence. He has also been an outspoken critic of the police's handling of violence, which many feel to be the real reason for his arrest.

Witnesses in court said they were tortured by police and forced to give false evidence. Judge Somanada admitted that many irregularities had occurred during the alleged discovery of the weapons and during the trial, but he still delivered a guilty verdict.

Earlier in the year Damanik became extremely ill, frequently collapsing with a high fever. In urgent need of ultrasound the authorities would not let him have. However, after the amazing and unexpected intervention of a senior Muslim cleric, who said he was told to help the Christian in a vision, officials let him travel for treatment.

The cleric, Idrus. R. al Habsy, also became a staunch advocate for Damanik's release after hearing about his campaign for peace. On August 20, the elderly cleric wrote to the Minister of Justice and Human Rights declaring Damanik to be a "man of good character" who "should be allowed to go free."

Idrus then passed away on August 23 from a serious illness. However, his actions paved the way for Damanik's early release.

When Damanik was brought out of the prison he spoke briefly with reporters before leaving with his family. He planned to stay in Palu overnight to attend a church meeting in his new capacity as president of the Christian Church of Central Sulawesi (GKST or Gereja Kristen Sulawesi Tengah), before traveling back to Tentena, his home town, on November 10.

Damanik was elected president of the GKST Synod on October 17, while he was still in prison.

Speaking to the press, Damanik expressed gratitude to all who had supported him during his arrest and imprisonment.

During his time in prison, Damanik received a total of 26,866 letters and cards from Christians all over the world. Many of these came in response to an Open Doors letter-writing campaign.

Damanik asked his daughter Nanda to record all the letters received, and said he made an effort to read each and every one, although some letters were written in foreign languages.

"I'm no hero," he said. "I'm just a normal human being. If there are any injustices being done by the government, I will again voice my opinion against it. I don't have any agenda -- I'll just keep doing the same thing I did before.

"But there are two things I'd like to do if I could. First of all, I'd like to meet the refugees at different refugee camps to thank them for supporting me.

"Secondly, I'd like to thank all those who have written to me and encouraged me in the prison. All the people, including children, who sent me letters, cards, band-aids, lotion for my skin, and little chocolates with Scriptures written on them -- you really touched my heart.

"I was amazed at the children who sent me pictures of trees and clouds and beautiful blue sky. Maybe they knew I couldn't see those things in the prison."

Damanik also had clear opinions on the sectarian conflict in Sulawesi, which began in the late 1990s. "From the beginning, I've said this is not a religious conflict. The real causes are the injustices we live with -- for example, corruption and favouritism, which are not being addressed or handled wisely by the government. This has prolonged the conflict."

Damanik can now look forward to resuming his work with the GKST Crisis Centre, which provides help to both Muslim and Christian victims of sectarian violence.

Commenting on the response Christians should have to the violence, Damanik said the church needed to pray and bless her enemies. However, he stated, "We also need to show we are not cowards in facing this injustice. I'm not saying we should express our anger in revenge, but we need to speak the truth in love.

"Finally, we Christians should look at ourselves in the mirror and see what faults we have before pointing the finger at others. We need to clean up our own house first."

As he left the prison on November 9, Damanik once again expressed his commitment to peace. He also said he would encourage the church to deal with its own faults, and ask them to extend forgiveness to those who had wronged them.

Some have expressed fears that Damanik may become the next target of mysterious killers who have murdered at least six Christians and wounded 11 more on the island since April. The victims include Ferry Silalahi, who represented Damanik in court and was shot in May; and Rev. Susianty Tinulele, who visited Damanik in prison two days before she was shot during a church service on July 18.

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