What a difference a faith makes!
The three Catholic Indonesians who were executed on 21 September were the latter.
Known as the “Poso Three”, Fabianus Tibo, Marianus Riwu and Dominggus da Silva were accused of inciting violence between Muslims and Christians in 2000 that led to the deaths of some 1,000 people in the Poso port region of Sulawesi island.
Before their execution, the Vatican, the European Union, and human rights organizations had protested their convictions. Pope Benedict, in particular, wrote a letter to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono asking him to grant them clemency.
On their part, the three convicts admitted their guilt as charged and asked for mercy.
Unfortunately, the efforts to save their lives were in vain.
In contrast, however, Muslim Indonesian convicts tend to get much lighter sentences for more serious crimes. Last year, for instance, an Indonesian court found Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir guilty of an “evil conspiracy” to commit the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings—which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians—and handed him a 30-month jail sentence.
Ba’asyir, who is considered the spiritual head of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist group, which is blamed for the two Bali bombings, the Marriott Hotel bombing and the Australian Embassy bombing in 2004, did his time and is now a free man. His jail term was even cut short by about four months in observance of Indonesia’s Independence Day, 17 August, this year.
In addition, in early September, the Denpasar district court sentenced Dwi Widiarto to 18 years and Abdul Aziz to eight years in prison for their involvement in the 2005 Bali bombings, which killed 26 civilians and injured over 100 people. Another militant, Mohammad Cholily, was sentenced to 18 years for supplying equipment for the attacks. The same court sentenced Anif Solchanudin to 15 years in prison for his role in helping to plan the attacks.
While 15 or 18 years may sound like a long time, they are hardly comparable with death.
Many Muslim Indonesians, moreover, were upset over the convictions of the Bali bombers. It is an open question whether the death sentence given to the Poso Three was the Indonesian government’s way of placating them.
“The Indonesian government is sacrificing true justice to provide ‘balance’ by executing these three Christians,” said Jeremy Sewell, the spokesperson of the International Christian Concern (ICC). “This is not justice. This is deception, cover-up and appeasement.”
Whether this is true or not, it is hard to justify why the Poso Three got the death sentence, whereas the Bali bombers got only 8, 15, or 18 years, depending on their charges.
Is terrorism a lesser crime than Muslim-Christian conflict? Is it because the Bali bombers are Muslim and the Poso Three were Catholics? Or is it because, as Sewell suggested, the Indonesian government wants to please the Muslim majority at the expense of the Christian minority in Indonesia?
Whatever the reason behind the execution of the Poso Three, the message it sends is that in Indonesia, one will get a much lighter sentence for terrorism than other crimes or conflicts among regional, ethnic, and religious groups.
What’s more, the execution of the Poso Three will damage Indonesia’s international image. Founded on the motto “Unity in Diversity” (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika), Indonesia is supposed to be a nation that has respect for, among other things, religious freedom, equality, and justice.
Unfortunately, today many Indonesians still experience discrimination, violence, or death just because of their religious faiths; churches still get burned whenever Muslim Indonesians are angry at their Christian fellow citizens; and it is very difficult to get permission to build a place of worship for a religion other than Islam.
To be sure, all Indonesians are equal in the eyes of God. But in reality, to paraphrase British novelist George Orwell, Muslim Indonesians are more equal than others.
Justice, too, may be blind, but for Indonesians, as the execution has shown, it is not faith-blind.
The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist (www.thangthecolumnist.blogspot.com). He is the editor of The Indonesian Dream: Unity, Diversity, and Democracy in Times of Distrust (Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004).