2006: Three Sulawesi Christians

On this date in 2006, Catholics Fabianus Tibo, Marianus Riwu and Dominggus da Silva were shot in the Central Sulawesi capital of Palu for inciting murderous anti-Muslim riots six years before.

The riots in question occurred in Poso, a hotspot of Christian-Muslim conflict that over 1,000 lives from 1999-2001. According to the Jakarta Post (September 25, 2006),

Tibo, Marinus and Dominggus were convicted of leading a Christian militia that carried out a series of attacks in May 2000 in Sulawesi, including a machete and gun assault on an Islamic school where dozens of men were seeking shelter.

Though a 2001 treaty stabilized the situation, tension remained, occasionally flaring into violence.

The 2001 death sentences of Christian activists also remained, a legacy of the open conflict. Small wonder that their execution triggered further unrest, not only in Poso but in Silva’s hometown in predominantly-Christian West Timor. And aftershocks for months to come — the murder a month later of a prominent Christian cleric, for instance — quelled by security forces sweetened with a bit of goodwill rebuilding.

Jakarta ignored international as well as domestic clemency appeals in carrying out the executions, including from the European Union and the the Vatican. The latter’s argument may have been somewhat compromised under the circumstances by Pope Benedict XVI’s impolitic citation just days before of a 14th-century Muslim-bashing text.

Apart from the humanitarian objections, others more specific to the case were raised in vain: that the trio executed had not been witnessed killing anyone personally, and that the sentences were disproportionate to that received by anyone else convicted in that era’s violence.

But such contentions were easily outweighed by the simultaneous progress of the Bali Bombers case, with the imminent likelihood of a triple-execution of Muslim militants … and the prospect of political fallout if only one faith’s martyrs were let off the hook.