Muslim pressure closes church in Indonesia

Published 05 November 2012  |  
Authorities in Bandung, West Java sealed shut the worship building of an Indonesian Christian Church (Huria Kristen Indonesia, or HKI) congregation on Oct. 23 after prominent Muslims persuaded residents to withdraw their signatures of approval for it, a pastor said.

According to a story by Morning Star News, Rev. Hari Hutagulung said that the church had gathered the signatures of 77 area Muslims in order for the 20-year-old church to apply for the proper building/use permit.

Sixty non-Christian signatures are required under Indonesian law. However, prominent Muslims persuaded many of them to withdraw their signatures, and police sealed the building last week, he said.

The building permit application process involved neighbourhood discussions of the church even after the signatures had been gathered, and it was then that influential Muslims urged residents to withdraw their approval, Morning StarNews reported the pastor said. Those opposed to the presence of the church formed a group called the Gathering of the Citizens of Neighbourhood 25 Forum.

"The problem arose when HKI officials began contacting all the citizens regarding the church," Hutagulung said. "There were citizens who rejected the presence of a church."

While other churches in West Java have faced loud protests from Islamists dedicated to close them down, last week's closure took place quietly in 10 minutes, according to weekly Tempo Media.

"This building at number 35 Siliwangi Street is sealed," read a sign that the Bandung police chief and another area official signed, the weekly noted.

Morning Star News reported when the church was built 20 years ago, there were no houses nearby, Hutagulung said. Since then homes have sprung up around it, and the Revised Joint Ministerial Decree of 2006 requires approval from area residents.

The church had quit activities the previous week after receiving a letter from the local government ordering it to quit worship, he said.

Morning Star News said Police Chief Teddy Kusidana reportedly said that the closure was not a ban on worship, but an enforcement of a Bandung Regency decree requiring the building to have the proper permit.

However, Hutagalung said he hoped the government would grant freedom to worship to every citizen in accordance with Article 29 of the 1945 Constitution.

He added that he still hoped the regional government would grant permission for the HKI building.

"If we are not allowed to worship in the building which was sealed, then we hope that the local government will help us so that HKI can worship again in accordance with the Joint Ministerial Decree," Morning Star News reported he said.

Protesters had demonstrated against the presence of the church in 2003 and 2008, he said, and protests from the Neighborhood 25 group flared again several weeks ago, claiming that the building's original permit was for a warehouse.

Morning Star News said the Islamist protests forced the Bandung Regency government to order the building owner to halt church activities temporarily until the proper permit is granted. But without the signatures of approval from area residents, the permit is unlikely.

Aceh Closures

In Aceh Province, a pastor of one of the nine churches forbidden to worship there last month said he hasn't dared hold services in the shop-house where they normally take place.

Morining Star News said Rev. Nico Tarigan of Gereja Bethel Indonesia (GBI) Peunayong in Banda Aceh said the nine churches closed - on the pretext of not having official permits highly unlikely for any small church to obtain - have agreed to meet in the buildings of four churches that have permits.

"We wish to follow the agreement that we were forced to sign with the Banda Aceh city government," Tarigan said. "The agreement says that we must cease all worship because they feel that we do not have permission (to operate) as churches. Furthermore, the agreement is intimidating, because it states that if we hold services, the municipal government will not be responsible for any anarchical actions (mob violence or attacks)."

Morning Star News reported an Islamist mob of hundreds had attacked the GBI Peunayong church on June 17, objecting to worship services in the shop-house, he said. The mob entered the building, forced services to stop and broke church equipment.

Rev. Tarigan said that, as the congregation was using the shop-house for worship and was not erecting a church building, they were acting in accordance with the 1945 Constitution's guarantees of freedom of worship.

Morning Star News said the city government closed the nine churches and five Buddhist Temples on Oct. 15 after pressure from area Islamists.

The legal pretext for these closures was Governor's Decree No. 25 of 2007. That states that for a house of worship to obtain a permit, there must be agreement of 120 neighbours and 120 congregation members and the recommendation of the village chief, along with the recommendation of the local Department of Religion.

According to Morning Star News, these conditions are stricter than those in the Joint Ministerial Decree's requirement of approval from 60 neighbours and 90 congregation members. Tarigan said the church activities were in accordance with the Joint Ministerial Decree but not the governor's decree.

Morning Star News said about 98 percent of the population in the city of Banda Aceh is Muslim. Aceh Province has 4.4 million Muslims, a little over 50,000 Protestants and about 3,300 Catholics, according to the Central Statistics Agency.

Morning Star News reports may be found at the website of International Christian Response (ICR), christianresponse.org.

Later this year look for Morning Star News at www.morningstarnews.org.

Reprints

More News in Mission