MANADO, Indonesia (BP)–A Christian human rights leader from the United States and a five-member delegation he was leading were detained for a day and a half by security forces in Indonesia’s strife-ravaged Malukan island chain before being released Feb. 24.
Steven Snyder, founder and president of the Washington-based human rights organization International Christian Concern, was leading a fact-finding mission to Indonesia with two pastors from Australia, a New Zealand pastor, one national from Manado and a member of Indonesia’s recently formed North Malukan Parliament.
During the ICC visit to Indonesia, the team heard numerous horrific testimonies from Christian refugees about the brutal slayings of loved ones, forced conversions to Islam (which has also been condemned by Indonesia’s President Wahid and moderate Muslims), and forced circumcision of men, women and children without any form of medication being provided.
Snyder had traveled to Indonesia to visit several of the refugee camps where Christians have fled from villages throughout Ambon and other north Malukan islands chain following attacks on their villages.
As many as 8,000 lives have been lost and tens of thousands displaced as a result of fighting that erupted in June 1999 following provocation by the Muslim extremists calling themselves Laskar Jihad, or “jihad warriors.” The principle leader behind the jihad is Amien Rais who has called on Muslims to join the effort to “push the Christians into the sea,” according to International Christian Concern. ICC has stated that it has obtained a copy of a CD distributed in Jakarta to solicit recruits for the jihad movement. According to ICC, the location serving as a stronghold for the jihad warriors is the previously tranquil island of Ternate, where the greatest common threat to the island people was an active volcano. Just like elsewhere throughout the north Malukun islands, Christians and Muslims had formerly lived together peacefully as neighbors and even family through marriage.
International Christian Concern has launched a campaign to rescue and assist the 7,000 Christians who have not yet been able to escape the clutches of the jihad warriors. Efforts are presently underway to organize rescue operations by boat. One rescue in early January was successful and resulted in freedom for more than 400 grateful Christians.
According to an ICC statement, Snyder and his team had taken every necessary precaution by registering with the security forces when arriving on the north Malukan island of Halmahera. The second day after their arrival at the town of Tobelo on the island of Halmahara, Snyder and companions were summoned by the provincial security force commander.
“Without explanation, we were herded into a military transport truck which had been loaded with crates of fruit and various military supplies,” Snyder recounted. “After a four-and-one-half-hour journey along winding roads, plagued with heavy rains and winds, we were then taken by boat to the island of Ternate, the provincial capital of North Maluku. Because of the threat of attacks by the jihad, one solider rode on top of the truck’s cab where a machine gun had been mounted. At the Ternate port, we were then turned over to the local police who escorted us to police headquarters. Following a six-hour interrogation, the team was taken to a local hotel as ‘guests’ (paid for by the team). The police captain in charge advised us not to open our doors to anyone who does not properly identify themselves in English. Two guards were then posted at each door. We believe that the police were actually looking out for our welfare, due to the presence of the jihad warriors in the city. In comparison to the treatment given by the military, the police were very polite and apologetic.”
The explanation given for the ICC team’s detention was that they had not obtained proper permission to enter the islands since it was considered under a “civil emergency” which allowed the governor to take command over both the military and police. It didn’t seem to matter to the security forces that the team had indeed notified the authorities and no mention had been made about any “civil emergency” restrictions, the ICC statement noted.
The ICC statement noted, “The intentions of the group had been clear — to assess the conditions and needs of the refugees and to evaluate how many more refugees could be accommodated in Tobelo. It is the vision of ICC to help organize rescue efforts on behalf of the remaining 7,000 Christians who are being held hostage by the jihad forces. None of the ICC efforts promote violence or use of arms. The rescue attempts that are currently underway require careful planning and coordination.”
Prior to their release, the two Indonesian speakers of the team were called to meet with the chief of police and then the provincial governor. Although sternly reprimanded, an equally strong apology was made to the team for the way they had been treated, ICC reported, quoted Snyder as saying, “We were then told that we were welcome to return to the islands, providing the necessary permission was requested by the Ternate authorities.”
Snyder also stated, “None of us were harmed or mistreated during our ordeal. We never appeared to be in danger. With the exception of the unpleasant and unnecessary truck ride, and additional expenses that resulted from missed airline flights and having to stay overnight as a ‘guest’ in a Ternate hotel, we were treated very well.”
The ICC team, among its findings, told of one couple with their five small children who recounted the nightmare of having been forcibly taken to a mosque and each member of the family circumcised with either a razor blade or a dull knife, including their youngest child who is only 6. An 11-year-old boy described how his parents had been killed by the raiding jihad warriors and how they had been hacked into pieces with swords. He then fled to the forest where he lived on wild plants for two weeks.
One Christian man recently managed to escape and described the terrible conditions in his village after being overtaken by the jihad. Anus Kueso described the same stories told by others of forced conversion to Islam, forced circumcision, forcibly being told to abandon their Christian beliefs in exchange for lessons in the teachings of the Koran and to continue in the Islamic faith or otherwise die as an apostate. Some 3,000 jihad warriors had attacked his village in February and another 3,000 arrived by sea in speed boats. The islanders tried to defend themselves but to no avail. They were forced to surrender and become Muslims or be killed.
“We are unable do give up our Christian faith, ” said one Christian refugee. “We go through the motions of converting to Islam because we don’t want to see our children butchered. But in our hearts, we are still Christian.”
ICC reported that many testimonies were heard as to how certain military units participated in the brutal attacks against the Christians when they were supposed to be helping protect and evacuate the Christians. Several policemen, both Muslim and Christian, have been killed by soldiers as they attempted to help defend the Christians who had been attacked.
While visiting the area of Tobelo, the team visited refugees who just six weeks earlier had been rescued as a result of the bold efforts made by certain individuals working closely with ICC. “At least eight other rescue attempts are being planned in an effort to save the lives of the remaining 7,000 Christians known to be held by the jihad warriors,” the ICC statement said. “There is a sense of urgency to finish the rescue efforts soon, because the government has already started removing the military troops from the Malukan islands. Even though many military units have participated in the brutal attacks against Christian villages, the majority at least offer some measure of security for the Christians who remain in hostile territory.”
“I was deeply struck by the faith of the Malukan Christians — their love for God and the beautiful hymns they sung by memory,” Snyder said. “These people have deep convictions. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They have asked, ‘Why hasn’t anyone helped us?’ It is our responsibility to answer their plea and to make every effort to comfort them in their time of distress, and to rescue as many as we possibly can before it is too late. … If my being detained for a day and a half can at all help these Christians who are daily facing much greater risks than I have ever endured or could ever imagine, then it is all worthwhile. We simply can not ignore them.”
Information about the ICC’s rescue efforts can be obtained at its Internet site, www.persecution.org, or by calling 1-800-ICC-5441.