Chinese Christians Blocked from Attending Lausanne Congress

Police threaten or detain some 200 house church members who planned to attend.

DUBLIN, October 15 (CDN) — As organizers prepared for the opening of the Third Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelization tomorrow in Cape Town, South Africa, Chinese police threatened or detained some 200 delegates who had hoped to attend.

After receiving an invitation to attend the event, house church groups in China formed a selection committee and raised significant funds to pay the expenses of their chosen delegates, a source told Compass. Many delegates, however, were “interviewed” by authorities after they applied to attend the Congress, the source said.

When house church member Abraham Liu Guan and four other delegates attempted to leave China via Beijing airport on Sunday (Oct. 10), authorities refused to allow them through customs, reported the Chinese-language Ming Pao News. Officials detained one delegate and confiscated the passports of the other four until Oct. 25, the closing date of the conference.

China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security had notified border control staff that the participation of Chinese Christians in the conference threatened state security and ordered them not to allow delegates to leave, Liu told U.S.-based National Public Radio (NPR).

Officials also prevented two house church Christians from Baotou City, Inner Mongolia, from leaving the country, and on Oct. 9 placed one of them in a 15-day detention, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported.

When Fan Yafeng, leader of the Chinese Christian Legal Defense Association and winner of the 2009 John Leland Religious Liberty Award, discussed the harassment with NPR on Tuesday (Oct. 12), officials assigned some 20 police officers to keep him under house arrest.

On Wednesday (Oct. 13), approximately 1,000 police officers were stationed at Beijing International Airport to restrain an estimated 100 house church members who planned to leave for the Congress via Beijing, according to CAA.

CAA also said authorities over the past few months had contacted every delegate, from Han Christians in Beijing to Uyghur Christians in Xinjiang, for questioning, and threatened some family members.

Normal church operations were also affected. The Rev. Xing Jingfu from Changsha in Hunan province told NPR that authorities cited the Lausanne Congress when they recently ordered his church to close.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, in a statement issued to NPR, accused the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization of communicating secretively with members of illegal congregations and not issuing an official invitation to China’s state-controlled church.

According to the Ming Pao report, the Lausanne committee said members of the Three-Self Protestant Movement had asked if they could attend. Delegates, however, were required to sign a document expressing their commitment to evangelism, which members of official churches could not do due to regulations such as an upper limit on the number of people in each church, state certification for preachers, and the confinement of preaching to designated churches in designated areas. House church Christians faced no such limitations.

The first such conference was held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974, which produced the influential Lausanne Covenant. The second conference was held in 1989 in Manila. Some 4,000 delegates from 200 countries are expected to attend the third conference in Cape Town.


Progress or Repression?

China watchers said there has been a slight easing of restrictions in recent months, accompanied by a call on Sept. 28 from senior Chinese political advisor Du Qinglin for the government to allow the independent development of the official church. Du made the remarks at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, according to the government-allied Xinhua news agency.

The BBC in August produced a glowing series on the growth of Christianity in China after Chinese authorities gave it unprecedented access to state-sanctioned churches and religious institutions. Religious rights monitor Elizabeth Kendal, however, described this access as part of a propaganda campaign by the Chinese government to reduce criticism of religious freedom policies.

NPR also produced a five-part series on Chinese religions in July. The series attributed the growth of religious adherence to the “collapse of Communist ideology” and pointed out that growth continued despite the fact that evangelism was “still illegal in China today.”

The claims of progress were challenged by an open letter from Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese Christian House Church Alliance, to Chinese President Hu Jintao on Oct. 1, China’s National Day.

In the letter, published by CAA on Oct. 5, Zhang claimed that Chinese house church Christians respected the law and were “model citizens,” and yet they had become “the target of a group of government bandits … [who] often arrest and beat innocent Christians and wronged citizens.” Further, he added, “House church Christians have been ill-treated simply because they are petitioners to crimes of the government.”

Zhang then listed several recent incidents in which Christians were arrested and sent to labor camps, detained and fined without cause, beaten, interrogated and otherwise abused. He also described the closure or demolition of house churches and the confiscation of personal and church property.

He closed with a mention of Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit, “who was sentenced to 15 years in prison because he evangelized among Uyghurs – his very own people.”

Report from Compass Direct News


Islamic-based legislation may be a key issue in this year’s elections.

DUBLIN, February 2 (Compass Direct News) – As candidates hit the campaign trail in preparation for Indonesia’s presidential election in July, rights groups have voiced strong opposition to an increasing number of sharia-inspired laws introduced by local governments. They say the laws discriminate against religious minorities and violate Indonesia’s policy of Pancasila, or “unity in diversity.”

With legislative elections coming in April and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono likely to form a coalition with several Islamic parties for the July presidential election, such laws could become a key campaign issue.

Although Aceh is the only province completely governed by sharia (Islamic law), more than 50 regencies in 16 of 32 provinces throughout Indonesia have passed laws influenced by sharia. These laws became possible following the enactment of the Regional Autonomy Law in 2000.

The form of these laws varies widely. Legislation in Padang, West Sumatra, requires both Muslim and non-Muslim women to wear headscarves, while a law in Tangerang allows women found “loitering” alone on the street after 10 p.m. to be arrested and charged with prostitution. Other laws include stipulations for Quran literacy among schoolchildren and severe punishment for adultery, alcoholism and gambling.

“Generally the legal system regulates and guarantees religious freedom of Indonesian citizens … but in reality, discrimination prevails,” a lawyer from the legal firm Eleonora and Partners told Compass.

Some regencies have adopted sharia in a way that further marginalizes minority groups, according to Syafi’I Anwar, executive director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism.

“For instance, the Padang administration issued a law requiring all schoolgirls, regardless of their religion, to wear the headscarf,” he told the International Herald Tribune. This is unacceptable because it is not in line with the pluralism that the constitution recognizes.”

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Article 29 of the country’s constitution, he added. “Therefore the government must assist all religious communities to practice their beliefs as freely as possible and take actions against those who violate that right.”

While Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), has publicly denounced the implementation of such laws, other groups actively support them. The Committee for the Implementation and Maintenance of Islamic Law (KPPSI) has held several congresses in Makassar, South Sulawesi with the goal of passing sharia-inspired legislation and obtaining special autonomy for the province, similar to that in Aceh.

KPPSI has also encouraged members to vote for politicians who share their goals, according to local news agency Komintra.


‘Threatening’ Decision

In February of last year, Home Affairs Minister Mardiyanto declared that the government saw no need to nullify some 600 sharia-inspired laws passed by local governments. His announcement came after a group of lawyers in June 2007 urged the government to address laws that discriminated against non-Muslims.

Moderates were alarmed at Mardiyanto’s decision, fearing it would encourage other jurisdictions to pass similar laws. Last August, Dr. Mohammad Mahfud, newly re-elected as head of the Constitutional Court, slammed regional administrations for enacting sharia-inspired laws.

“[These] laws are not constitutionally or legally correct because, territorially and ideologically, they threaten our national integrity,” he told top military officers attending a training program on human rights, according to The Jakarta Post.

Mahfud contended that if Indonesia allowed sharia-based laws, “then Bali can pass a Hindu bylaw, or North Sulawesi can have a Christian ordinance. If each area fights for a religious-based ordinance, then we face a national integration problem.” According to Mahfud, sharia-based laws would promote religious intolerance and leave minority religious groups without adequate legal protection.

Under the 2000 Regional Autonomy Law, the central government has the power to block provincial laws but showed little willingness to do so until recently when, bowing to pressure from advocacy groups, it pledged to review 37 sharia-based ordinances deemed discriminatory and at odds with the constitution.

Such reviews are politically sensitive and must be done on sound legal grounds, according to Ridarson Galingging, a law lecturer in Jakarta.

“Advocates of sharia-based laws will stress the divine origin of sharia and resist challenges [that are] based on constitutional or human rights limits,” he told The Jakarta Post. “They maintain that sharia is authorized directly by God, and political opposition is viewed as apostasy or blasphemy.”


Empowering Vigilantes

A national, sharia-inspired bill regulating images or actions deemed pornographic sparked outrage when presented for a final vote in October last year. One fifth of the parliamentarians present walked out in protest, leaving the remainder to vote in favor of the legislation.

The bill provided for up to 15 years of prison and a maximum fine of US$1.5 million for offenders.

“This law will only empower vigilante groups like the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI),” Eva Sundari, a member of the Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) told reporters. FPI is widely-regarded as a self-appointed moral vigilante group, often raiding bars and nightclubs, but also responsible for multiple attacks on churches.

“Many of the members are preparing for elections and looking for support among the Islamic community,” she added. “Now they can point to this law as evidence that they support Islamic values.”

Although several Golkar Party politicians support sharia-based laws, senior Golkar Party member Theo Sambuaga has criticized politicians for endorsing such legislation to win support from Muslim voters. Several major parties openly back sharia laws, including the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the United Development Party, and the Crescent Star party.


Key Election Issue

Sharia-based laws may become an even hotter election issue this year as a change to the voting system means more weight will be given to provincial candidates.

Political analysts believe Yudhoyono must form a coalition with most if not all of the country’s Islamic parties in order to win a majority vote against the Golkar party, allied for this election with former president Megawati Sukarnoputri’s PDIP.

The coalition Yudhoyono could form, however, likely would come with strings attached. As Elizabeth Kendal of the World Evangelical Alliance wrote in September 2008, “The more the president needs the Islamists, the more they can demand of him.”

In 2004, Yudhoyono partnered with the NU-sponsored National Awakening Party, the National Mandate Party (founded by the Islamic purist organization Muhammadiyah) and the PKS to achieve his majority vote. Analysts predict PKS will again be a key player in this election.

Few realize, however, that PKS draws its ideology from the Muslim Brotherhood, a group formed in Egypt in 1928 with a firm belief in Islamic world dominance. Crushed by the Egyptian government in the 1960s, members of the Brotherhood fled to Saudi Arabia, where they taught in the nation’s universities – influencing the future founders of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Sudan’s National Islamic Front.

The Brotherhood took root at a university in Bandung, West Java in the 1970s in the form of Tarbiyah, a secretive student movement that eventually morphed into the Justice Party (JP) in 1998. Winning few votes, JP allied itself with a second party to form the PKS prior to the 2004 elections.

Since then, PKS has gained widespread support and a solid reputation for integrity and commitment to Islamic values. Simultaneously, however, PKS leaders are vocal supporters of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, leader of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Sadanand Dhume, writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review, says the two organizations have much in common. In its founding manifesto, PKS calls for the creation of an Islamic caliphate. Unlike JI, however, “the party can use its position in Parliament and its … network of cadres to advance the same goals incrementally, one victory at a time.”  

Report from Compass Direct News


Authorities must act now to prevent Malukan-style conflict, report says.

DUBLIN, July 14 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in West Papua, Indonesia, must move fast to prevent tension between Christian and Muslim communities escalating into a Malukan-style conflict, according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The neighboring Maluku islands erupted into bitter sectarian warfare between 1999 and 2002, leaving thousands dead, injured or homeless.

While the conflict in West Papua dates back to Indonesia’s takeover of the region in 1963, several developments from the beginning of the decade have heightened tension in recent months, according to ICG’s June 16 report, “Communal Tensions in Papua.”

New, less tolerant strands of Islam and Christianity have gained influence since 2002, creating fissures within and between religious communities, the report claims. Also, faith issues have acquired a political dimension, since many Papuan Christians believe a Special Autonomy Law passed in 2001 was too limited, while Muslim migrants firmly support centralized rule from Jakarta and accuse Christians of separatism.

Most importantly, an influx of Muslim migrants, initially sponsored by the government, has changed demographics in the region, with Papuan Christians now fearing they will become a minority.

Indonesian troops and special police forces assigned to the region to quell independence movements have tortured and sometimes executed Christians suspected of involvement with the Free Papua Movement, according to other reports from local human rights organizations.


Manokwari: Trouble in ‘Gospel City’

Two incidents covered in the ICG report illustrate the potential for violence. In May, church leaders in the city of Manokwari – commonly referred to as “Gospel City” – circulated the second draft of a regulation designed to protect Christian values and traditions, drawing heavy criticism.

The “Regulation on Designating Villages for Mental Spiritual Guidance” came in response to a proposed mosque building project on Mansiman Island, considered the “birthplace” of Christianity in the region since the first two missionaries to West Papua landed there in 1855.

A local politician first proposed building a Grand Mosque and Islamic study center on the island in 2005. Uproar followed, with Christians asking whether Muslims would be offended if the most visible landmark in the deeply Islamic province of Aceh was a church.

The Manokwari District Interchurch Cooperation Board issued a statement decrying the “discriminatory and unjust” stance of the national government towards Christianity, pointing to a total of 991 attacks against Christians, churches and individuals throughout Indonesia dating back to 1949; trauma suffered by Christians in conflict areas such as the Malukus, and legal discrimination against churches under a 1969 Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) regulating the establishment of places of worship.

Civil authorities then rejected the building proposal submitted by the mosque committee, citing objections from church leaders.

In response, Muslims claimed that Islam had come to Papua long before Christian missionaries arrived. One Muslim also told ICG that the rejection of a “house of Allah” provided grounds for jihad.

Jihadi groups outside Papua were quick to offer assistance. Three Javanese followers of the infamous Abu Bakar Ba’asyir traveled to Manokwari in December 2005 and drew up a hit list of 38 pastors leading the campaign against the Great Mosque. A similar group from the Malukus arrived in January 2006, but local Muslims turned both groups away.

The Evangelical Christian Church (GKI) of Papua decided in February 2006 that a regulation should be adopted to preserve Manokwari’s status as the Gospel City. In March the GKI circulated a first draft of the “Regulation on Implementing Mental Spiritual Guidance.” Muslims believed the draft law referred to the proselytizing and conversion of Muslims, which further inflamed tensions.

Both Muslim and Christian leaders denounced the draft regulation, but it became a national issue, with major Muslim newspapers portraying it as an attack on Islam. Another jihadi group, the Laskar Jundullah in South Sulawesi, briefly discussed launching a new jihad in Manokwari, spreading rumors that the draft regulation was a foreign plot to combine Maluku and Papua into a single independent Christian state.

On the contrary, Christians fear they will be increasingly marginalized in the region, according to John Barr, general secretary for the international mission wing of the Uniting Church in Australia.

“Christianity came to West Papua more than 100 years ago, and most Papuans eagerly adopted it to the point that Christianity reinforces and now underlines their identity,” he told Compass. “Where Papuan culture appears to be in the process of being eroded, Christianity serves to maintain local values and provide Papuans with a strong sense of who they are.”

Formally declaring Manokwari a Gospel City is an attempt to address this despair, he explained. “It’s an attempt to be proactive about the future.”


Kaimana’s Iron Christmas Tree

Tensions also erupted unexpectedly last year in Kaimana, a district historically known for religious tolerance, with Christians sitting on mosque development committees and Muslims assisting in the construction of churches, according to ICG.

In October 2007, during the Muslim celebration of Ramadan, the Protestant Church of Indonesia in Papua (GPI) scheduled a fund-raising concert at a school situated between two mosques. Muslims were incensed when plans for the concert emerged, but mosque leaders averted a clash by asking GPI to reschedule the event for 9 p.m., after evening prayers.

In December 2007, GPI leaders erected an iron Christmas tree crowned with a Star of David in a public park near the town center, claiming they had a permit to do so from the deputy district head. Local Muslims were furious, and a crowd quickly gathered. Rumors spread that Christian neighborhoods would be attacked and panic took hold, with some Christians fleeing into the jungle.

District head Hasan Achmad intervened and negotiated a compromise; the tree could remain in the park until January 21.

Tensions remained high, however, with GPI leaders calling an emergency meeting on December 28 following rumors of impending attacks on Christians. The rumors came to nothing, and on January 21 the GPI reluctantly complied with orders to remove the tree. By then, however, mutual trust and acceptance had been shattered.


Both Sides Aggrieved

ICG concludes that potential for communal conflict is high because both sides consider themselves aggrieved.

In some areas, local governments have controlled tensions by pairing a Papuan Christian district leader with a non-Papuan Muslim deputy. This has proved effective in some areas, but not all, the report stated.

ICG suggests that in areas where conflict is greatest, indigenous Papuan Muslim organizations such as the Papuan Muslim Council might play a bridging role.

Other West Papua observers such as Barr and Elizabeth Kendal of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) believe ICG’s report is a useful analysis but somewhat biased toward the Muslim point of view.

In her analysis, Kendal remarked on ICG’s unquestioning acceptance of Muslim claims that Islam came first to West Papua, and that Christian colonialists then proceeded to obliterate all traces of Islam, despite no evidence that Islam ever became popular in the region. She also criticized the report for suggesting that the development of indigenous Muslim scholars and teachers was a realistic solution to the problem.

“The report forecasts that if Muslim-versus-Christian clashes do erupt, they will remain localized,” Kendal added. “I do not agree with that assessment. The jihadist groups, the pro-Indonesian militias and in particular the Indonesian military are looking for an excuse to unleash violent repression and ethnic-religious cleansing. Any clash therefore has incendiary potential.”


Outside Influences

According to ICG, there are multiple reasons for the breakdown in trust throughout West Papua.

New strands of Christianity and Islam began arriving in West Papua early this decade, bringing voices not necessarily in tune with the traditional tolerance of Papuans. Salafism, an ultra-Puritan method of practicing Islam, eventually made it to Papua after spreading rapidly through Indonesia in the 1990s. Some Papuan Muslims who had studied elsewhere in Indonesia or in the Middle East also returned with new, less tolerant interpretations of their faith.

Newer evangelical churches such as the Congregation of the Holy Way, Bethel and Bethany churches began to hold mass religious rallies, locally known as KKRs, in public places. Often these meetings featured testimonies from Muslim converts. Muslim residents objected to the KKRs and responded by publicly questioning basic tenets of the Christian faith, such as the divinity of Jesus, further compounding tensions.

An influx of both Christian and Muslim refugees from the neighboring Maluku islands brought its own problems, with refugees sharing personal accounts and video clips of bloody confrontations in Ambon and Seram. Video clips of beheadings in Iraq also circulated on cell phones, reinforcing negative images of Islam in some circles.

Human rights organizations began to report sightings of jihadi groups and training camps in West Papua. ICG’s report contends that most if not all of these “jihadis” were members of a non-violent Islamic missionary group, Jemaah Tabligh, active in Papua since 1988. Jemaah Tabligh members dress as the Moluccan Laskar Jihad members do, with men in white robes and turbans and women in full veils rather than headscarves.

Kendal, who analyzed ICG’s report for the WEA, noted that the source who rejected reports of jihadi sightings was identified in the footnotes as a “Muslim activist.”

Ja’far Umar Thalib, the leader of Laskar Jihad, admitted that some of his men arrived in Papua in late 2000 to assess “the needs of Muslims.” Thalib then sent approximately 200 men to Papua in 2001 to “crush” the Papuan independence movement, which he claimed was a Christian conspiracy to secede from Indonesia and form a Christian state.


Changing Demographics

The Indonesian government launched a migration program in 1975 that brought an influx of Muslim citizens into the mostly Christian territory of West Papua, sparking Papuan fears of a religious takeover. The program ended in 1985, but migration continued; of approximately 2.5 million inhabitants of West Papua today, 1 million are migrants.

Officially, Christians still make up about 56 percent of the total population and 95 percent of the indigenous population in West Papua, according to Jim Elmslie of the West Papua Project at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney, Australia. But both communities dispute these figures. Christians claim the number of Muslim migrants is deliberately downplayed, while Muslims claim authorities have combined animist and Christian populations to project a Christian majority.

When the Indonesian government took control of the region in 1963, it passed a new law declaring all land and natural resources property of the Indonesian state. This measure gave migrants and multinational oil companies access to Papuan ancestral lands, sparking angry demonstrations from indigenous landowners, many of them Christians.


Toward a Solution

While potential for conflict is high, Barr said a church-sponsored human rights group, ELSHAM, is already conducting workshops in peace education and conflict resolution, and churches have worked hard to rectify abuses of both Muslim and Christian communities.

This has occasionally put Christians at risk. For example, Kendal reports that in January 2007, Indonesian police occupied the headquarters of the indigenous Kingmi church in Jayapura, accusing the Rev. Benny Giay and the Rev. Noakh Nawipa of engineering an attack on a gold and copper mine in August 2002 in support of the independence movement. Giay and Nawipa rejected the allegations and said they were targeted because of their non-violent work for peace and justice in West Papua.

“ICG’s report does raise critical questions,” Barr concluded. “Papua is part of Indonesia, and Christians need to live alongside Muslims in a harmonious society. The alternative is horrific, and the Malukus bear witness to this.”


Timeline of Events in West Papua, Indonesia


An Indian trader brought Islam to Papua on this date, according to a Papuan Muslim preacher. Other scholars claim the Bacan sultanate in North Maluku brought Islam to Papua in 1569.



Two German missionaries landed on Mansiman Island, off the coast of Manokwari in West Papua.



Dutch colonialists handed the territory of West Papua (then known as West Irian Jaya) to the United Nations, which then gave it to Indonesia on condition that a referendum on integration be held by December 1969. Following the takeover, Indonesia passed a new law declaring all West Papuan land and natural resources as the property of the Indonesian state.



Under the ”Act of Free Choice,” 1,025 hand-picked West Papuans voted unanimously – under great duress – for integration with Indonesia.



Indonesia’s Suharto government launched a migration program that would last until 1985. Thousands of Indonesian Muslims migrated to West Papua, both under this program and through voluntary migration.


May 1998

The Suharto government collapsed, sparking independence demonstrations in Papua.


1999 – 2002

Violent conflict in the Maluku islands sparked a refugee influx into West Papua. Jihadi groups also established a limited presence in West Papua.



Indonesia granted limited autonomy to West Papua with a Special Autonomy Law; today, many provisions of this law have yet to be implemented.


November 2001

Indonesian Special Forces abducted and murdered popular Papuan leader Theys Eluay.


December 2003

The Indonesian government appointed Timbul Silaen to head the police force in West Papua. U.N. prosecutors had previously indicted Silaen for his role in war crimes and crimes against humanity while he headed the Indonesian police force in East Timor in 1999.


September 2005

A politician in Manokwari promised Muslim voters that he would build a Grand Mosque and Islamic study center on Mansiman Island.


October 2005

Civic authorities rejected an application for the Grand Mosque building project.


November 2005

Christians in Manokwari demonstrated against the construction project.


December 2005

Jihadis from Java arrived in West Papua and draw up a hit list of 38 pastors who campaigned against the mosque project. Local Muslims rejected their offer of assistance.


January 2007

Police accused the indigenous Papuan Kingmi church of being the religious arm of the Free Papua Movement (OPM).


March 2007

Church leaders in Manokwari outlined a draft “Regulation on Implementing Mental Spiritual Guidance,” creating a national uproar.


December 2007

Christians in Kaimana erected an iron Christmas Tree topped with a Star of David in a public park, infuriating local Muslims.


January 2008

Christians removed the Christmas Tree from the park as agreed in a meeting with town leaders.


May 2008

Church leaders in Manokwari circulated a second draft of their “Regulation on Designating Villages for Mental Spiritual Guidance.”


April 2008

Christians celebrated the 100th anniversary of local Christianity. In the same month, Muslims held a seminar entitled “Awakening of Irian Muslims” to assert the prior arrival of Islam in West Papua.


Report from Compass Direct News