Indonesian Christian women released from jail sentence

By staff writers
June 18, 2007

Three Indonesian Christian women who had been serving prison sentences after accusations of proselytism and breaches of child protection in the majority-Muslim state have been freed from jail, report human rights groups.

Ratna Bangun, Eti Pangesti and Rebekka Zakaria were released from Indramayu State Prison, West Java, earlier this month and addressed a press conference run by a Christian charity, Open Doors.

The three women had served two years of a three-year prison sentence handed down by an Indonesian court for running a Sunday School which was open to local Muslim children. Encouraging people to change religion from Islam is outlawed.

The case attracted international attention and concern. The women said that they were engaged in legitimate education and welfare activities, and were not ‘targeting’ Muslims as their critics had alleged.

The three were sentenced in 2005, after the court in Indramayu found them guilty of charges brought by a council of Indonesian Muslim clerics.

They were specifically accused of breaching the country’s 2002 Child Protection Law.

The women, who belong to of the David's Camp Christian Church set up a ‘Happy Sunday’ programme, which included Christian songs, games and Bible studies for the children, under the direction of pastor Dr Rebekka Zakaria at Eti Pangesti’s house.

After 18 months, the programme had attracted 40 children, but only 10 were from Christian homes. The Muslim children went with the full consent and supervision of their parents, said the women.

As a result of local opposition, the church building was closed in December 2004. But the three women continued to run the Sunday programme from domestic premises. On 13 May 2005 they were arrested and taken into police custody for questioning.

After being charged with beaches of child protection in a court harassed by militant groups, the women were imprisoned. Civil rights campaigners, and not just church groups, were highly critical of the case.

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