Judges Declare Pastor Guilty, Despite Evidence of Witness Intimidation and Legal Abuse
by Sarah Page
DUBLIN, Ireland, June 16 (Compass) — Judges have handed down a three-year sentence to Rev. Rinaldy Damanik, an Indonesian pastor accused of illegal weapons possession. Damanik and his defense team now have a week to decide whether they will accept the sentence or appeal the judge’s decision.
Judges took account of the time Damanik had already spent in custody, reducing the overall jail sentence to two years and four months.
Damanik was found guilty despite clear evidence that witnesses for the prosecution were tortured and intimidated by the police in order to obtain their testimony.
A source who had spoken to Damanik requested prayer for the defendant and the defense team. The guilty verdict, announced in a trial marked by serious abuse of legal procedure, gives little hope for a successful appeal. Funds for a lengthy appeals process are also in short supply.
Damanik was a key member of the Central Sulawesi Christian Church (GKST) Crisis Center working to assist both Christian and Muslim refugees in the troubled Poso area. He also signed the controversial Malino Peace Accord in December 2001, earning the wrath of local officials. It was hoped the Accord would reduce tension between Christian and Muslim communities in Poso. However, the Accord has had limited success.
Damanik was traveling in a relief convoy on August 17, 2002, when police officers stopped him for questioning. The following day, local police announced they had found illegal weapons in the vehicle.
Professor J. E. Sahetapy, a legal expert and key witness for the defense, said police broke legal procedure by searching the vehicle without a warrant. Furthermore, they did not arrest Damanik after the alleged discovery of the weapons. Sahetapy maintained that even if weapons were found in Damanik’s vehicle, the results of an illegal search must be disregarded by the court.
Mona Saroinsong, staff member of the GKST Crisis Center, said the citizens of Tentena had planned to hold a mass demonstration if Damanik was sentenced. However, Damanik is not in favor of these plans.
Damanik has clearly shown his heart for peace in the troubled region of Poso. On June 2, the Christian village of Kapompa was attacked. The attack left one man dead and another seriously injured. From his holding cell, Damanik made an appeal on a local radio station asking the people of Tentena not to retaliate against their Muslim neighbors.