Rev. Rinaldy Damanik controversial Trial by Indonesian authorities.


INDONESIA. 21 March 2003 Rev Rinaldy Damanik, a Christian pastor in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, is currently on trial for the alleged possession of weapons following Muslim-Christian violence. Local Christians and human rights monitors have collected overwhelming evidence indicating that he is being framed as a scapegoat for the authorities' own failure to act against Islamic militant extremists Laskar Jihad. Rev Rinaldy Damanik is a leading and influential figure, a minister in the Church of Central Sulawesi (GKST) who heads the church's Crisis Centre of Central Sulawesi, set up to deal with the crisis provoked by Islamic militant attacks on Christians in the province over the past four years. Rinaldy has played a crucial role supporting Christian refugees and co-ordinating action to assist those who have been left destitute without food, medicines or shelter by Islamic militant violence. He has been a major voice for peace in the region and is one of the main signatories to the December 2001 Malino reconciliation agreement, which was meant to bring a formal end to the conflict in Sulawesi. However, Rinaldy has been fiercely critical of the Indonesian authorities, particularly the local police, for failing to take any action against Islamic militant groups like Laskar Jihad, for allowing them to operate with virtual impunity, and even for siding with them in some attacks. As a protest against the failure of the authorities to protect Christians, he refused to attend a meeting in August 2002 that was called to review the implementation of the Malino peace agreement. Many Christians believe Rinaldy has been framed by local police because of his outspoken critical comments and that he is an innocent scapegoat who is being unfairly blamed for the failure of the Indonesian authorities to end the violence in Central Sulawesi. Rinaldy's ordeal began on 17 August 2002. Rinaldy and his colleagues were travelling in convoy, having evacuated threatened Christians who had been driven from their homes by a series of attacks on local Christian villages by Islamic militants from Laskar Jihad, when they were pulled over by police. The group were moved away from their vehicles before being allowed to return and continue on their way. Police later claimed that they had found weapons and ammunition in the car in which Rinaldy was travelling and had removed them as evidence. They later brought charges against him. Christians believe they planted the evidence whilst the group were being detained at a distance from the vehicles. Initial attempts to arrest Rinaldy in Tentena, where he is based, were thwarted by local Christians, who mistrust the police and local authorities. The police then set a deadline of 9 September for Rinaldy to report to the police office in Palu. Rinaldy strenuously denied all the allegations against him. However,with tension rising as the 9 September deadline approached, Rinaldy decided to travel to Jakarta to appear as a witness at Police Headquarters, where he believed he stood more chance of receiving justice and fair treatment than at the hands of the local police in Palu. When he reported to the police headquarters on 11 September he was served with an order detaining him as a suspect for twenty days. For several months Rinaldy was interrogated in Jakarta as police attempted to build up evidence for a case against him. The police were forced to extend his period of detention three times, as they struggled to gather enough evidence to bring him to court. On 22 December Rinaldy was suddenly transferred to Palu Police Headquarters in Sulawesi, without his lawyers being informed. On 26 December Rinaldy was taken ill after his breakfast and his body seized with cramps. He was taken to hospital. Someone at the police station is believed to have put rat poison in his food. Throughout this time the police continued to struggle to obtain evidence against Rinaldy. Their case was rejected three times by the High Court in Central Sulawesi because the police simply did not have sufficient evidence to bring Rinaldy to court. It was finally allowed to proceed on 8 January 2003. Rinaldy was therefore transferred into the custody of the court where his supporters believe him to be safer than he was when he was being held by the police. The case against Rinaldy opened on 3 February. He was charged with possessing weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a charge which could earn him up to 20 years in prison or even a death sentence. However, shortly afterwards the Minister for Justice changed the charges against him from possessing weapons to being a provocateur of violent clashes. In protest Rinaldy refused to attend court on 10 February, and registered a formal complaint with the High Court on State Affairs in Jakarta. This change in charges has now been dropped. On 24 February a doctor visited Rinaldy in his cell, where he had again been taken ill. He was told that he needed to go to hospital immediately. However, as he could still walk he was not allowed to do so and he was required to appear in court despite being in terrible pain. Rinaldy's lawyers walked out in protest and he was finally taken to hospital where symptoms of liver disease and suspected hepatitis were diagnosed. Rinaldy's trial is now continuing. There are reports that a group of Islamic extremists from Poso attempted to attend one of the hearings, but were prevented from doing so by the security services. The handling of the case by the police and Indonesian authorities has outraged local Christians. They allege that attempts to have Rinaldy released on bail were deliberately stalled, that his defence team was initially denied access to evidence and that witnesses have been tampered with. The testimony of a key prosecution witness is believed to have been obtained through torture. Christian colleagues of Rinaldy report that they are being kept under observation and harassed. Some were forced to go into hiding and at least one defence witness is reported to have been tortured. Another key defence witness, a military officer who saved Rinaldy from an attack by Laskar Jihad Islamic militants, has been found shot dead. The treatment of Rinaldy Damanik by the authorities stands in sharp contrast to that of Laskar Jihad leader Jaffar Umar Thalib, an extremist whose organisation has slaughtered thousands of Christians in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus. Thalib was arrested in May 2002 on charges of inciting hatred and religious violence and insulting the Indonesian president. While in jail he was visited by the Indonesian vice-president Hamzah Haz (who referred to him as his "Muslim brother") in a gesture of Islamic solidarity. Jaffar was soon released on bail and his trial was postponed in early August because the judge decided that he was unwell. The judge said, "I see that you're pale. We don't want to examine someone who is unhealthy - I hope you can get well soon". The trial resumed later in August. In January 2003 Thalib was found not guilty despite overwhelming evidence.

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