Campaign Launched for Imprisoned Christian Women

Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide draw attention to plight of three Christian women standing trial in Indonesia on charges of ''Christianization.''

An international ministry that supports and strengthens persecuted Christians is launching a writing campaign for three Christian women who are standing trial in Indonesia on charges of “Christianization.”

The campaign, which Open Doors USA announced yesterday in a statement, intends to let Dr. Rebecca Laonita Zakaria, Ratna Mala Bangun and Ety Pangesti know that Christians in the West are praying for them.

“These women need our prayers and letters of support,” said Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller. “That these women are in prison for simply conducting a Christian education program for kids is another example of how Christians suffer for their faith.”

“Join me in praying for their release and the continuation of this important ministry in Indonesia,” Moeller added.

According to a July 15 report by UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the charges against the three women stem from their involvement in a children’s program for a nearby public elementary school in Indonesia’s West Java province.

The program, run by Bangun and Pangesti, was set up in 2003 by the women of the Gereja Kristen Kemah Daud (GKKD), or Christian Church of David’s Camp, which Zakaria pastors. It consisted of opening and closing prayers, singing songs, practical tutoring in reading, writing and mathematics and trips to parks and swimming pools.

Although the program was organized for local Christian children, Muslim children were also welcomed with parental consent.

However, despite the fact that all the children had full parental consent and that none of children had changed religion, the women were arrested on May 13 following allegations made by the local chapter of the Indonesian Council of Muslim Clerics (MUI). According to CSW, the group alleged that the women enticed Muslim children to participate in the camp and that they tried to convert the children to Christianity by giving them gifts. Since then, the women have been incarcerated in the Indramayu Prison, accused of breaching the Child Protection Law.

According to Open Doors, the women have had three trial appearances. Their trial is set to continue for several more weeks and has attracted considerable national attention. If convicted the women could be sentenced for up to five years and fined 1,000,000,000 Indonesian Rupiahs (101,626 U.S. Dollars), Open Doors reported.

Although Indonesia has long enjoyed a reputation for religious tolerance and freedom, CSW Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said late last week that “for three women to be arrested, detained and charged for simply organizing a children’s holiday club in good faith illustrates how serious the situation for Christians in Indonesia is becoming.”

In the last few years, more extremist factions have continued to increase in influence in the political, military, legislative and religious fields, leading to more restrictions of religious freedom.

In addition, over 100 churches have reportedly been closed down or destroyed in West Java at the local level in the last five years.

CSW reported Friday that the case of the three women appeared to be “symptomatic of the growing influence of a radical Islamist agenda in the area and in Indonesia as a whole.”