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Ailing Evangelist Abused In Indonesia Prison, Group Says

Friday, August 18, 2006 | Tag Cloud

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife) -- An ailing Christian evangelist serving a four-year prison sentence in Indonesia's West Java province for allegedly defaming Islam has been abused in jail by Muslim militants, Christian investigators said Thursday, August 17.

The UK and Ireland branch of Open Doors, which investigates Christian persecution, said Abraham 'Abe' Bentar, 55, was attacked by Muslims including 'visitors' attempting to reconvert him to his former Islamic beliefs.

Speaking in the Tasikmalaya prison in West Java province, the evangelist was quoted as saying he is battling discouragement and fear. "When Open Doors visited him, it took a while before he recognized us and agreed to meet with us because he has received several unwanted 'visitors' who would usually rough him up," Open Doors UK and Ireland told BosNewsLife.

"I have been abused many times. I have lost six teeth because of that," Evangelist Abraham said in published remarks. The attacks added to other ailments, including his apparent recovery from a stroke that impaired his right arm. He also still struggles with high blood pressure and diabetes, Christians said.

MEDICINES NEEDED

"Because of the medicines and food brought by his wife Waty, 36, and a local church, he manages well. Visits from his wife are difficult though because the only way she can visit him is by making a long and costly overnight bus journey," Open Doors UK and Ireland claimed.

He was sentenced May 17 for defaming Islam and its 'prophet' Muhammad, charges human rights groups say are often used by Muslim leaders and militants to halt the spread of Christianity in the world’s largest Muslim nation, particularly in areas such as West Java.

Elsewhere in West Java, three Sunday School teachers – Dr Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun – are serving a three-year prison sentence in Indramayu State Prison, for allegedly forcibly converting Muslim children, accusations the women have strongly denied.

But one year into their sentence "the three ladies have been a great testimony to the other 12 women prisoners with their quiet trust and faith in God. There was much unrest in the women’s sections of the prison before Rebekka, Eti and Ratna arrived, but all the women now get on well," said Open Doors UK and Ireland, citing its own investigation.

GUARDS "IMPRESSED"

"The guards have also been impressed, and the women are praying that the 400 men in the prison will be changed too by God’s presence," the group added. Back in Tasikmalaya, a prison of almost 400 inmates where he shares a cell with four others, Evangelist Abraham also continues to preach and pray, said Open Doors UK and Ireland. "Everyday, I wake up at 3:00am to pray and sing praises. I stop at 4:00am to give my cellmates a turn to pray," he explained in published remarks.

He is apparently free to worship with four other Christian prisoners on Sundays, but when giving a sermon he is prohibited from mentioning 'Jesus Christ'. "I have to say 'God' instead," he reportedly said, adding that other prisoners can hear the worship songs and seem to enjoy the melody, but do not really understand what the songs are about.

Abraham's other activities include sports and doormat-making. "[Making doormats] is very hard for me. I used to be a respected person when I was a free man. But now, I have to deal with this kind of [menial] work," he reportedly said.

In a statement distributed by Open Doors UK and Ireland he said it was difficult for him to accept his present circumstances, but he added that "[This is] nothing compared to what Paul and Jesus Christ went through." He said he was able to forgive those who allegedly persecute and forced him to confess blasphemy.

"MUSLIM FANATICS"

A day before the final court hearing, "several Muslim fanatics" allegedly visited him in the prison saying, “Tell me, what have you gained by becoming a Christian?” Abraham reportedly replied, "Jesus Christ has been blessing me abundantly."

After his comments, "A blow landed on Abraham’s head. When asked to recite the shahada (the Islamic faith declaration), Abraham refused {and} he received another blow," Open Doors UK and Ireland added. "If not for threats jeopardizing several churches in his district, Abraham would have held on to his plea of innocence, " the group stressed.

Open Doors UK and Ireland said it has been assisting “Abraham’s family by paying the rent on their house in Central Java,” while also organizing an international letter campaign to encourage the evangelist. “. We urge Christians to participate in our prayer and letter-writing campaign for him and to also remember, if possible, many other imprisoned Christians and their families,” said Open Doors UK and Ireland CEO Eddie Lyle.

The evangelist is reportedly wary of being transferred to a prison in Central Java as he fears he might be mistreated by wardens there, although this will bring him closer to his wife and daughter Rinda, 14. Nearly nine out of 10 Indonesians are Muslims, according to official estimates, making Christians, and especially Evangelicals, a small minority in the country of roughly 245 million people. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Indonesia).

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