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suspects now on trial as "a sign of forgiveness,"  BosNewsLife learned Thursday, December 14.

Open Doors, a group supporting persecuted Christians around the world, said its staff members visited the families of  Theresia Morangke, aged 15, Alfita Poliwo, 17, Yarni Sambue, 15 and Noviana Malewa, then 15, who were attacked as they walked to their Christian school.

The first three girls died instantly; Noviana received serious injuries to her face and neck but survived the attack. "The families of the three martyred schoolgirls shook hands with the suspects currently on trial in Poso – Hasanuddin, Lilik Purnomo and Irwanto Irano – as a sign of forgiveness," the well-informed Open Doors group told BosNewsLife.

Many praised that move, but others disagreed with it. "I received text messages from some fellow believers in Poso criticizing us, saying we should not have done that," Hernius Morangki, father of Theresia, reportedly said. 

Human rights activists, such as the National Commission on Violence Against Women, feared the move could affect the ongoing trial in Jakarta.

WORRIES

"If there was to be any reconciliation, it should have taken place after the trial was completed. We're really worried that the reconciliation will disturb the legal process to find justice for the families of the victims," the Jakarta Post quoted Kamala Chandrakirana, head of the institution, as saying.

Hasanuddin told the Central Jakarta District Court he and two other men were "involved" in the October 2005 attack on the girls.

"I was indeed involved in the beheadings," Hasanuddin told the court, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "But we did it because the authorities did nothing about the massacres of Muslims."

Sulawesi island was the scene of unprovoked attacks on Christians by jihadis from 1998 to 2002 that left at least 1,000 people dead. Open Doors said the families of Theresia, Alfita and Yarni flew from Poso to Jakarta to appear in court to testify against Hasanuddin and the other two defendants.

FORGIVENESS

They also wanted to show forgiveness, Open Doors suggested. "It was hard for all of us to grant Hasanuddin's request to meet with us. But as believers, we must forgive those who have persecuted us," said David Malewa, older brother of Noviana, representing the families in remarks released by Open Doors.

"By holding on to Jesus' teachings, we were able to forgive. We really hope this will mark the beginning of peace restoration in Poso," David added. Open Doors it met Theresia's father, Alfita's mother and sister, and Yarni's parents were present while Noviana Malewa came with two school friends, Arce and Yeserian.

"Arce and Yeserian had actually walked with the group on that fateful day. But they stopped at a stall to buy some peanuts along the way," David revealed. Had they continued walking with their friends, they too might have been attacked.

MOTHER

Alfita's mother, a frail elderly lady, reportedly told the Open Doors investigators: "I have forgiven whoever did this. I prayed that they would realize what they did. I also asked God to forgive them." Although she appeared "deeply traumatized" the woman said she did not have "the courage to [be bitter against God]; He is sovereign over all lives."
 
On November 27, several days after the meeting between the victims' families and Open Doors, the hearing of Hasanuddin took place again at the Local Court of Central Jakarta. For the second time relatives testified as witnesses. Noviana’s answers to questions from the judges and prosecutors highlighted the terror of the assault.

 "After almost a month in Poso Hospital, I moved to Tentena [a predominantly Christian area] and stayed with my brother. I have been afraid of going back to Poso ever since the assault," Noviana reportedly told the court.

PROSECUTORS

"The prosecutors presented evidence before the court: two machetes and the clothes and accessories worn by the girls on the day of the incident. Noviana acknowledged the evidence, but refused to touch her friends' belongings, which brought back painful memories to her," Open Doors said.

Hasanuddin was charged under the terrorism law. If found guilty, he could face the death sentence. Two members of the Muslim Lawyers Team assisted him. Open Doors said it had urged supporters to „pray for the families –that their response will become a model for both the Christian and Muslim communities in Poso” as well as for the Noviana Malewa as she "recovers from trauma caused by the assault."

Open Doors also wants "the police, judges and prosecutors who are handling the case to ensure that justice is done." (With reports from Indonesia and BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos). 

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