Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Poso Three and justice

the jakarta post
April 04, 2006

Some people following the case of the three Christians awaiting execution for their alleged involvement in the Poso violence in 2000 have no doubt recalled the movie In the Name of the Father, based on the real-life story of the Guildford Four, who were wrongly convicted for an IRA bombing.

The three men in Poso were jailed in April 2001 for allegedly inciting clashes between Christians and Muslims that left some 200 people dead. The men were to be put to death in late March but the executions were delayed due to "technical difficulties", according to Central Sulawesi Prosecutor's Office head M. Jahya Sibe. No new date has been given for the executions.

Numerous voices from different sections of society have been raised to call for the death sentences of Fabianus Tibo, 60, Marinus Riwu, 48, and Dominggus da Silva, 39, to be delayed or overturned. This despite the three men's clemency appeal to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono being rejected in December.

This vociferous opposition to the executions of the three is in itself an interesting part of this story.

The convicts earlier gave authorities the names of 16 people they believed were the true masterminds of the three-year sectarian conflict in Poso, which began in 1999 and left more than 1,000 people dead. It must be remembered that scapegoating and victimizing the weak is not unheard of in the history of violence in the country.

Opponents to the executions staged demonstrations demanding the state review the death sentences. Even some Muslims in Poso have joined the chorus demanding a delay of the executions until the three have been given the opportunity to testify in any future trials of the 16 alleged masterminds.

Opposition to the executions has caused concern among some people that maybe the wrong people have been arrested and imprisoned, which is the story of In the Name of the Father and the Guildford Four, who were scapegoated by police eager to put someone in jail for a bombing that outraged the public. Any evidence that did not fit the police's version of the bombing was ignored, until the convictions were overturned thanks to a public campaign by people who refused to allow the injustice to stand. The movie version is a powerful portrayal of the weak being victimized by the strong.

We sincerely hope what is happening in Poso is not about victimizing the weak, even though the parallels are tempting. The three men awaiting execution are poor farmers. Although peace largely has returned to Poso after the signing of the Malino peace deal in 2001, there are still occasional security disruptions. A bomb exploded March 22 in the village of Toini, the eighth bomb explosion in the area this year. There was a series of killings last year, including the gruesome decapitations of three Christian schoolgirls last October.

The purpose of bringing the Guildford Four into the discussion is to make absolutely sure there has been no miscarriage of justice in Poso. There is still time to ensure that justice is served, because postponing the executions for just two or three months would not make that much of a difference.

Those who oppose the executions claim the three are scapegoats of Poso's political elite, which engineered the sectarian conflict.

It does no harm, in our view, to listen to these people more closely. The legal trials may have been exhausted, a second appeal to the President for clemency may have been ignored and new evidence allegedly found by lawyers for the three may not have been heeded, but compassion for someone facing death knows no limits.

We believe such compassion can be found in the President and senior judges, although the Supreme Court earlier refused to hear the men's case and the President has rejected their pleas for clemency. We urge all those involved to give the three men, their lawyers and supporters one last opportunity. They have some convincing arguments that the three men awaiting execution were not the masterminds of the violence. We believe their views should be considered. By doing so, we might be able to avoid punishing the wrong people.

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