Three Indonesians Stand Trial for 'Christianization'

The Indonesian Council of Muslim Clerics (MUI) allege the three women tried to convert Muslim children to Christianity by giving them gifts.

Three women in Indonesia involved in a children’s holiday camp are currently standing trial on charges of “Christianization,” according to reports by Christian persecution watchdog groups.

The charges against Dr. Rebecca Laonita, Ratna Mala Bangun and Ety Pangesti stem from the women’s involvement in a children’s holiday initiative called “Happy Week” in Haurgelis, West Java. Their trial, which commenced on June 30, is set to continue for several more weeks and has attracted considerable national attention. If convicted the women face jail sentences of up to five years.

“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,” stated Tina Lambert, Advocacy Director for UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide. “CSW urges the British government to raise this case with the Indonesian government.”

According to CSW, the case of “Christianization” was brought against the women by the local chapter of the Indonesian Council of Muslim Clerics (MUI) who 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.

Although the camp was organized for local Christian children, it also welcomed Muslim children with parental consent and supervision.

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, CSW reported. Since then, the women have been incarcerated in the Indramayu Prison.

Meanwhile, no complaints have been lodged by the children’s families, reportedly.

Although moderate Muslim leaders have spoken out in favor of the defendants, asking for the case to be withdrawn, CSW said that the presence of over a hundred Mujahadeen militants at the court hearings and reports of extremists interfering with witnesses have led observers to fear that a great injustice will be done.

CSW alleges that militants hope to set a legal precedent from the Child Protection Laws of 2002, which would prevent Muslim children from attending Sunday schools or any Christian-led activities.

“This case appears to be symptomatic of the growing influence of a radical Islamist agenda in the area and in Indonesia as a whole,” CSW reported. In the last five years, over 100 churches have reportedly been closed down or destroyed in West Java at the local level.

Meanwhile, extremists are continuing their efforts to introduce Shari’ah law and restrictions of religious freedom through various legislative amendments, having failed to gain support for the introduction of Shari’ah law into the Indonesian constitution.

Although Indonesia has long enjoyed a reputation for religious tolerance and freedom, more extremist factions have continued to increase in influence in the political, military, legislative and religious fields in the last few years, thus leading to more restrictions of religious freedom.