Morning Star News is reporting that hundreds of Christians have hit the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia's capital to urge government action after local officials demolished a church building and threatened to close others at the behest of Islamist forces.
According to their story, Christian protestors, joined by minority
Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims, held a shared prayer service and sang the
country's national anthem in downtown Jakarta to mark their protest on 8
"Many victims were part of the protest, which came weeks after local
authorities spurred by an Islamic extremist group demolished the Batak
Protestant Christian Church (HKBP) in the Taman Sari area of Bekasi, a
Jakarta suburb in West Java Province," it continued.
"HKBP members continue to hold services at the site where their
church building was razed on March 21, a week before Good Friday. The
Islamic People's Forum in Taman Sari had protested against the church,
alleging a building permit violation. Indonesian officials routinely
delay or deny church building permits - besides the fact that
requirements are beyond the ability of smaller churches to meet - thus
providing Islamic extremists a pretext for protests and attacks."
Theophilus Bela, president of the Jakarta Christian Communication
Forum, told Morning Star News, "The demolition was illegal - there was
no written order by the district head of Bekasi." He added that church
leaders were expected to file a lawsuit against the local government.
The pulling down of the church building hit the headlines in national
newspapers, which carried photos of church members in tears - singing
hymns, crying and begging local officials not to demolish their
facility. Hundreds of police and army officers guarded the area while
Muslim militants, shouting Koranic verses, cheered the excavator.
"What is our sin, sir?" church member Megarenta Sihite shouted at
district officers. "Is it a sin to pray? Show us where our mistake is. I
thought this is a democratic country. Please, Mr. President, we were
born here in this country with five religions. We never did anything bad
to their houses of worship. Why are they doing this to us?"
The church, said Morning Star News, had gathered 89 signatures of
approval from local residents, required by law to acquire a permit, but
an official refused to sign the document, claiming that most of the
signatures were "fake."
Rather than an alleged building permit violation, area Christians
suspect the actual reason behind the demolition was related to the
re-election weeks earlier of West Java's Islamist governor, Ahmad
He had promised the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) to rid
the province of the minority Ahmadiyya sect and instill Islamic values
in return for receiving election support, according to The Jakarta
Globe, and Christians noted actions against them as well.
A week after
the results of the election were announced, the Banua Niha Keriso
Protestan (BNKP) church in Bandung, the capital of West Java, received a
threat from the local neighborhood chief, Haj Ayi, an Islamist, warning
that if they did not take down all Christian icons and vacate the
building, they would face a confrontation with a large group of local
Muslims, the Globe reported.
"It is feared that the BNKP church might meet the same fate as that
of the GKI Yasmin church in Bogor and the HKBP Filadelfia church in
Bekasi - both West Java churches were sealed by local authorities in the
last five years in direct violation of Supreme Court rulings," said the
"The GKI Yasmin and HKBP Filadelfia congregations now hold joint
services every Sunday on the street outside the State Palace in Jakarta,
in order to draw the attention of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to
Refusal to grant building permits on various pretexts is one of the
main triggers for church closures and anti-Christian violence, according
to a Jakarta-based rights group, the Setara Institute for Democracy and
Peace. A 2006 joint ministerial decree requires signatures from
congregations and residents living nearby, as well as approval from the
local administration, to build a house of worship.
On January 27, added Morning Star News, about 50 men from the FPI
scaled the gates of a 400-member Pentecostal church (locally known as
GPdI) in Mekargalih village in Jatinangor sub-district of Sumedang town
in West Java. The mob vandalised the place of worship and assaulted
pastor Bernhard Maukar - at one point using his necktie to strangle him,
according to the Globe. The men claimed that the 26-year-old church did
not have a valid permit to operate.
Police arrested Maukar two days later for holding services without a
valid permit. The pastor is serving a three-month sentence at the
Sumedang prison, as he could not pay the fine of $2,600. On February 12,
the pastor's wife, Corry, was warned that she, too, would be arrested
if she held a worship service.
Protests against churches often turn violent, as Pastor Anna
Nenoharan from the Evangelical Christian Church (Gekindo) in Bekasi's
Jatimulya area narrated at Monday's protest.
"I was knifed in my neck and my tummy," she was quoted as saying in
relation to a 2005 incident. FPI members who claimed the church did not
have a valid permit stabbed her, she said, and the church building was
"The FPI attacked me, and the law didn't do anything to protect me,"
she reportedly said. "They are still free . We have protested in front
of the State Palace, but nothing has been done . Our church can be
pulled down, but our spirit will always remain high . . . We are ashamed
of our government, but we are proud to be Indonesian."
"The Indonesian government has done little to protect rights of the
minorities despite the international human rights community taking note
of growing animosity in a country whose constitution is based on the
doctrine of Pancasila - five principles upholding the nation's belief in
the one and only God and social justice, humanity, unity and democracy
for all," stated Morning Star News.
"The Setara Institute cited 371 acts of intolerance and violence
reported across Indonesia last year alone, revealing that Christians
were the main target in the Sunni Muslim-majority country. While
Indonesia's population of 240 million is believed to be largely
tolerant, a new trend has emerged of local Muslims - not just extremist
groups - leading violent attacks, Setara noted.
"The government, however, continues deny such trends. In February,
Bahrul Hayat, secretary general of the Ministry of Religious Affairs,
told local media, "Indonesia is a good place to see religious harmony,"
and added that incidents of violence were not a cause for alarm."
Days later, Human Rights Watch blasted the Indonesian government for
failing to protect minorities. The government is "undermining its claims
to being a rights-respecting democracy," said Brad Adams, HRW's Asia
director, urging President Yudhoyono "to insist that national laws be
enforced, announce that every violent attack will be prosecuted, and map
out a comprehensive strategy to combat rising religious intolerance."
HRW's 107-page report, "In Religion's Name: Abuses against Religious
Minorities in Indonesia," released on Feb. 28, highlighted local
officials' role, saying they "too often have responded to acts of arson
and other violence by blaming the victims."
"Most perpetrators have received little or no punishment" the report
states. "In two cases [related to the two churches in Bogor and Bekasi],
local officials refused to implement Supreme Court decisions granting
minority groups the right to build houses of worship. While some
national officials have spoken out in defense of religious minorities,
others - including the minister of religion, Suryadharma Ali - have
themselves made discriminatory statements."
HRW also said violence and discrimination were "in part made possible
by discriminatory laws and regulations, including a blasphemy law that
officially recognises only six religions, and house of worship decrees
that give local majority populations significant leverage over religious
Indonesian government institutions - including the Ministry of
Religious Affairs, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical
Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem) under the attorney general's office,
and the semi-official Indonesian Ulema Council - have eroded religious
freedom by issuing decrees and fatwas (religious rulings) against
members of religious minorities and using their positions of authority
to press to prosecute "blasphemers," the report added.
Christians hope the call for the protection of Christians and other
minorities will not fall on deaf ears yet another time, Bela said.