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from issue no. 11 - 2005

Don’t send those three peasants to their death

Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marianus Riwu were condemned to death on the accusation of being the minds behind the clashes of a religious origin that occurred in the area of Poso between 1998 and 2001. The bishop of Manado defends them. And he’s not the only one.

by Davide Malacaria

Monsignor Joseph Theodorus Suwatan, bishop of Manado

Monsignor Joseph Theodorus Suwatan, bishop of Manado

«Don’t send those three peasants to death». It is the appeal that comes from the other side of the world. From Indonesia to be precise, and it comes from Monsignor Joseph Theodorus Suwatan, the bishop of Manado, a diocese in the north of the island of Sulawesi (Celebes). They are 60 year-old Fabianus Tibo, 48 year-old Marianus Riwu, and 42 year-old Dominggus da Silva; “Tibo and companions”, as they are now known in the news reports of what has become a national case. The three are accused of having committed some murders between March and June of 2000, crimes that supposedly led to a bloody conflict between Christians and Muslims. The murders happened in the framework of clashes of a religious origin that occurred in the area of Poso between 1998 and 2001, in which about two thousand people lost their lives; a war that proceeds at equal pace with the conflict that broke out in another area of Indonesia, the Molucca Islands, where the clashes between Christians and Muslims have caused at least 13,500 dead. Indeed, because also in Indonesia, which has a population of 210 million people, 87% of whom are Muslim and 10% Christians (of whom 3% Catholics), there have been those who sought to spark off a conflict of civilizations between religious communities who, also in the name of the principles of the Pancasila (the five guiding principles of the State: faith in only one God, unity, humanity, democracy and social justice), have until now lived together peacefully. Thanks be to God, both conflicts reached a reconciliation, especially because of the reasonableness of the Christian and Muslim religious communities, but the after effects of that violence have not ceased. There are some who also include the business of Tibo and companions among these, whose penal process finished with their condemnation to death. «Their trial was rushed», says Father John Mangkey, secretary general of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSH), originally from Manado and resident in Rome: «They wanted to find a guilty party immediately in order to close the matter quickly and because of this a summary trial resulted. It is impossible that those three could be the “minds” behind the clash, or that by their crimes they wanted to spark off a religious conflict – because this is what they were condemned for. They are three poor peasants… I don’t say that they were totally extraneous to the violence that occurred in that tragic period: they had come from the country to defend the church of Saint Teresa and the Ursuline convent, and then they took part in the consequent clashes. But actions of that kind were, unfortunately, widespread at that time. The death penalty is truly excessive… ». Also because Tibo and his companions are the only ones to have ended up being tried…
It was hoped that the President of the Republic, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, could resolve the question by granting pardon, but it was not so. Monsignor Suwatan, bishop of Manado, whose diocese includes the tormented area of Poso, has made various public appeals in favor of the three condemned. He explains: «Tibo and his companions come from the island of Flores, because they had adhered to a government program that envisages the emigration of peasants from over-populated areas to others. They came to Poso in search of a more dignified life. All there. How can illiterate peasants be the inspirers of massacres? And also the Catholics in Poso were victims. All the Catholic buildings were set on fire and destroyed during the conflict: the church of Saint Teresa, the presbytery, the Ursuline convent, the schools and the student hostels, the parochial hall. Nothing was left… ». But the prelate does not underline these things to point the accusatory finger against the Muslims. «It’s a question of justice», he explains, now that his appeals have become more pressing with the approach of the execution. In this regard Father Mangkey places the emphasis on a detail that emerged during the trial: Tibo and companions told the investigators that others had a much more prominent role than theirs in that violence. And they gave the names of sixteen people. But nobody ever wanted to explore those revelations more deeply.
In the defense of the three peasants, the diocese of Manado sought, and found, help also in a non-Christian ambience. At the conclusion of the Sagki (the Grand National Meeting of the Indonesian Church), which was held last November, the heads of the different religious communities of the country were present, Muslims included. And it was on that occasion, Monsignor Suwatan explains, that Father Jimmy Tumbelaka, parish priest of Saint Teresa’s, met Hasyim Muzadi, president of the Nahdlatul Ulama, the most important Muslim mass organization in the country, to talk about the judicial issue of Tibo and his companions. A positive meeting, from the moment the Catholic priest referred to the press agencies that the Islamic leader had not objected to an eventual international appeal in favor of the three condemned. The prelate of Manado notes that all the religious leaders present adhered to the conclusions of that assembly, synthesized in this phrase: «Arise and move to construct a new habitus for a new public morality of our nation». A fact that testifies how the desire for peace and life in common is widespread among all the religious communities. Monsignor Suwatan continues: «In Poso there wasn’t a conflict between religions. It’s politics that manipulates religion or makes religion an instrument to attain political gains … There are those who have interests in nourishing these clashes, who benefit from these tragedies as occasions of easy gains. To give but one example: the central government set aside funds in favor of the victims of the clash. The old governor of Poso, the equivalent of your mayor, and other members of the local administration, were accused of having misappropriated some of that money and are now in Jakarta, where their position is being examined by the investigators». Father Mangkey, who follows anxiously from Rome the development of the situation in the homeland, is also of the same opinion, and tells of local communities (Muslim and Christian) united in the attempt to repulse the fundamentalist infiltrations that come from outside. And of how, in the Moluccas, the Muslims give a hand in the reconstruction of the destroyed Christian churches. Not only: the Nahdladtul Ulama, particularly on the island of Java, has organized for years volunteer protection groups to guard Christian churches at Christmas time. And yet there are those who still attempt in every way to inflame this immense archipelago-State formed by a myriad of islands (where the most populous Muslim community on the planet lives), planning and perpetrating attempts and violence to the damage of the Christian community. The aggression that happened on 29 October last was particularly ferocious, when three Christian female students were killed and decapitated. A crime that was given wide coverage also in foreign newspapers. On that occasion Monsignor Suwatan said: «We find ourselves faced with a strategy of terror intended to shock and provoke tension just now when relations between the Christian and Muslim communities have become peaceful».
A demonstration for peace on the streets of Jakarta.

A demonstration for peace on the streets of Jakarta.

Monsignor Suwatan concludes: «It is significant that in these days the leaders of some Islamic organizations have come out publicly and asked that the execution of Tibo and companions be delayed, but also that their condemnation to death be re-examined, in the spirit of seeking a just justice. One of them is Nawawi S. Kilat, an exponent in the first ranks of the Muslim community of Poso and, among other things, also one of the signatories of the Malino peace agreements, in December 2001, that put an end to the religious conflict. The head of the protestant Synod of Sulawesi, the Reverend Rinaldy Damanik, also asked for further enquiries, in particular that the role of the sixteen people indicated by the three condemned be examined more thoroughly. All of this is also important to evidence yet again how the conflict that took place in Poso is not in fact a conflict between Christianity and Islam. And to give voice to the defense of Tibo and companions is not only to ask for justice for these people, but also the attempt to identify the ones truly guilty of perpetuating this conflict. I will do my best, with the help of all people of good will and of whatever religion, to seek justice».
The Indonesian prelate also wanted to inform the Holy Father of the matter. Also because he knows that Benedict XVI follows the events in his country with attention, so much so that, on the occasion of the murder of the three female students, he wanted his words of comfort to reach the families of the victims. The community of Saint Egidio has also taken the issue to heart and on 19 December, along with some Indonesian Muslim figures, launched an appeal in favor of the three condemned. Meanwhile the days are counted that separate the three peasants from Poso from execution, whose date should soon be fixed. For Tibo and his companions time has become short.

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