Appeal for Imprisoned Sunday School Teachers in Indonesia Rejected

An appeal to reverse a conviction against three Indonesian Christians was recently rejected, Christian persecution watchdog groups reported last week.

International Christian Concern (ICC) reported on Thursday, that the appeal filed by Dr. Rebecca Zakaria, Ratna Bangun and Ety Pangesti – leaders from a local Christian Church in the district of Indramayu in West Java – was rejected by the Indonesian authorities.

The three women Christians have been jailed since Sept. 1, after being convicted of "attempting to force children to change their religion" under the Indonesian "Child Protection Act," sources say.

According to U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the local chapter of the Indonesian Council of Muslim Clerics (MUI) alleged that the women enticed Muslim children to participate in a Sunday school program organized for local Christian children in a nearby public elementary school in Indonesia’s West Java province, during which they tried to convert the children to Christianity by giving them gifts. Although all the children reportedly had full parental consent to join the program and none of children had changed religion, the women were arrested on May 13 following allegations.

On top of the rejected appeal, the three Christians were badly treated in the Indramayu prison, according to a latest report from the U.K.-based Barnabas Fund.

New Zealand Director of the Barnabas Fund, Julian Dobbs, recently returned to New Zealand, after visiting the three convicted women. In describing their situation, he said, "The women sleep on hardwood platforms with no blankets or sheets. There are 12 women altogether, in the prison, and eight share a five meter by five meter jail cell where they must pay the guards to turn on the water for their toilet."

CFI also reported the poor environment faced by the Christian women after a visit of the CFI president Jim Jacobson to the prison in September. The Christian women and all other inmates are fed an egg-sized lump of rice and soybean mixture covered in ants three times a day.

Despite living under these conditions, the work of the believers has not been stopped. One of the women, Rebecca Zakaria, has been allowed to lead a worship service on Sundays in a small outdoor courtyard area of the prison, according to CFI. About 35 people from her church enter the prison each Sunday to participate.

"This is ‘School of Trust Bible School.’ Not a jail," Zakaria told CFI. "God comforts me everyday with joy and peace. I pray for the other prisoners and guards. One prisoner converted and became a Christian. We share our faith with others."

According to a CFI report, the organization has been urging the Indonesian government to release the three women. Moreover, it appeals the U.S. government to place all possible pressure on Indonesia for their immediate release.

Dobbs of the Barnabas Fund New Zealand, reflected on the three women’s situation. He said, "the suffering of many thousands of Christian converts goes unreported and unnoticed by western governments and much of the public."

"Political correctness prevents information about persecuted Christians from being reported. Many governments and leaders in the developed nations are terrified by the more radical elements of Islam," Dobbs added.