Police, Islamists Put Up Obstacles to Worship in Indonesia

Church services over Christmas season blocked; property seized.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, January 10 (CDN) — Government officials in West Java Province blocked one church from worshipping, and Islamic groups pressured authorities to seize the property of another during the Christmas season.

The Bogor Regency Administrative Leadership Council tried unsuccessfully to forbid the Gereja Kristen Indonesia (Indonesian Christian Church, or GKI) in Bogor’s Taman Yasmin area from holding a Dec. 25 Christmas service, but authorities did block it from its regular Sunday service on De.26. In Rancaekek, Bandung, Islamic demonstrators on Dec. 19 got police to remove items from a Huria Kristan Batak Protestan (HKBP) church building that had already been sealed.

In Bogor, GKI Yasmin spokesperson Bona Sigalingging said police telephoned church leaders to forbid Christmas services that were to begin at 7 p.m. on Dec. 25.

“At that time the leaders rejected the police order,” Sigalingging told Compass.

Church leaders went to a strip of land in front of the GKI Yasmin building, which the Bogor city government has sealed, to set up a rented tent for the Christmas service. Local police arrived and ordered that the service be cancelled, but again church leaders refused, Sigalingging said.

They continued setting up the tent and arranging benches, and at about 5:30 p.m., 10 women wearing Muslim head coverings (hijabs) arrived to demonstrate against the Christmas service. Male demonstrators in Muslim clothing joined the demonstration at 7 p.m., and protestors from the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) pressured police to stop the service.

At 8 p.m., the Christmas prayer and reflection service began, with demonstrators screaming, “Allahu akbar [God is greater]!” and “Break it up!” They also yelled, “Arrest the provocateurs,” Sigalinging said.

Though upset, the congregation continued to worship, he said. As they sang “Silent Night” and lit candles, the demonstrators shouted all the louder, moving toward the worshippers. They came within three meters of the worshippers before police were finally able to restrain them.

The congregation continued in solemn prayer and song, with the mob yelling until the service finished at 9 p.m.

Church leaders were meeting at 12:45 a.m. to plan the next morning’s 8 a.m. worship service when a member of the legal team received a phone call asking them to meet with members of the army and intelligence services, as well as with Bogor city and West Java police. At the meeting, a soldier speaking for the Bogor municipality requested that the GKI cancel Sunday morning worship scheduled for Dec. 26, Sigalingging said.

“The soldier also spoke about the growing issue of defamation of religion [Islam defaming Christianity], and how this would be very embarrassing if the issue spread,” Sigalingging said. “Because of this, he asked the church to cancel services.”

Church leaders rejected the request, saying that the way to resolve religious defamation problems was to enforce the law and stand firm against intolerance and intimidation, Sigalingging said.

“They could also obey the decision of the State Administrative Court, which had found that the church had a legal building permit and had the right to worship even by the roadside,” said Sigalingging.

The roadside services marked a retreat from the church legal position, he said, as the administrative court had ruled that the church could worship in its building.

“Although the City of Bogor had requested a rehearing, this is no reason to delay the execution of the decision according to law 14/1985,” he said.

Sigalingging said that the decision of the administrative court had the force of law, and that the GKI Yasmin congregation should have been allowed to worship in its building. The court had found that the building permit was legally obtained and that the Bogor municipal government could not revoke the permit. The court had ordered Bogor to rescind the revocation order.

The meeting finished at 1:30 a.m., with the church firmly committed to holding Sunday worship on Dec. 26. Bogor officials responded by sending police to the worship site on Abdullah bin Nuh Street in Yasmin Park; from early morning on, the road was barricaded at both ends.

As a show of force, water canon trucks appeared.

“The police excused their action by saying that it was designed to stop troublemakers who might try to use religion as a mask,” Sigalingging said. “These kinds of people had been there since morning. However, such excuses were not accepted by the congregation. The congregation could not get close to their church, and they were even asked about their permission to worship.”

As a result, the congregation was not able to worship; they did pray in the middle of the street, he said.

In a press conference at the Wahid Institute protesting the discrimination, GKI Yasmin leaders along with representatives of the Indonesian Fellowship of Churches said that they were concerned.

“Discrimination is becoming systemic and spreading, yet it is ignored by the nation in many places,” Sigalingging said in a statement he read that was also signed by Pastor Ujang Tanusaputra and Pastor Esakatri Parahita.

An interfaith group that has been assisting the GKI church issued a three-point appeal: cease all slander and obstructions to finishing construction of the GKI church building, which was legally underway, and allow the congregation to worship in it; the state must be firmer in dealing with intolerant groups that terrorize those of a different faith; and strengthen the constitution, Pancasila (the state philosophy that includes belief in one God without specifying any particular religion) and the practice of unity in diversity (Bhineka Tunggal Ika).

The executive secretary for research and communication for the Fellowship of Churches in Indonesia, the Rev. Henry Lokra, said at the press conference that contrary to the claims of protestors, no illegal worship exists in the nation.

“Because of this, when the government apparatus is passive, it is violating the constitution,” Lokra said. “In the case of GKI Yasmin, passivity has led to the blocking of those who wish to worship rather than blocking those who demonstrate. This is a basic human rights violation.”

Organizations such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the FUI and the Islamic Reform Movement (Garis) “have absolutely no constitutional right to forbid the building of a place of worship, because the forbidding of permission for a place of worship is the right of the government,” he said.

Chairul Anam of the Human Rights Working Group commented that the incident was a violation of the constitution and the law by the Bogor municipal government, which sealed the church even though the GKI had won decisions in the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

“When Bogor asked for an appeal, the Supreme Court refused,” Anam said.

An appeal in any legal system does not nullify a previous decision, said Anam. “Because of this [principle], the Supreme Court decision regarding GKI Yasmin cannot be revoked,” he said.

The central government should sanction or otherwise take strong actions against those in the Bogor city government who disobeyed the law and the constitution by sealing the church building, he said.

Another problem, Anam said, was the extreme measures police took, using mobile barricades and water cannons to control 50 demonstrators.

“What the police did was actually terrorizing the congregation,” he said, adding that the measures prevented GKI members from getting to their church site. “The police were supposed to neutralize the 50 demonstrators that were propagandizing, instead of blockading the congregation from worship.”

The state has given in to a small gang of Muslim thugs, “and this small gang of Muslims does not represent the Indonesian Islamic community,” he said, adding that the Bogor city government should quickly remove the seal. “The police must act decisively and not make those who disobey the law heroes.”

The head of the Legal Advocacy and Human Rights Association of Indonesia, Hendrik Sirait, said that politics played a role in the GKI Yamin church’s problems. A Bogor police official, Sirait said, indicated that obstacles to the church’s worship resulted from a pact between the Bogor government and a political party.

“The police have become intimidators rather than peace officers,” he said.


Church Property Seized

In Rancaekek, Bandung, Islamic protestors occupying the front part of the Huria Kristan Batak Protestan HKBP church premises on Dec. 19 clamored for police to remove property from the building; eventually authorities removed the pews and other items.

The local government had already sealed the building, but demonstrators from the hard-line Muslim Intellectuals Gathering Forum of Rancaekek arrived at 4 a.m. on Dec. 19 calling for its belongings to be removed, sources said.

The Rev. Badia Hutagalung said he was sleeping in the rented house adjacent to the place of worship when he saw 15 demonstrators locking the property fence and calling for him to wake up and leave the premises.

“Why do you live in a place that has been sealed?” asked one in the crowd when Hutagalung came out. He explained to the protestor that the district head had unsealed his home when he realized it had nothing to do with the church worship.

At 7 a.m., when the mob forced the pastor to leave the house, he climbed over the 1.5-meter fence – the crowd had glued shut the lock – and called one of the elders, Jawadi Hutapea. He arrived, and Hutagalung also called police and the district head to ask them to come immediately. Three policemen arrived but only watched the mob from a distance, he said.

When Compass arrived at 8:30 a.m., nearly 100 protestors were occupying property in front of the fence and shouting for the local government remove all property inside.

The district head of Rancaekek, Meman Nurjana, arrived at 9 a.m. but was unable to calm the protestors. The district head, police chief, representatives from the Police Civil Service (Satpol PP) and the Muslim Intellectuals Gathering Forum held a discussion in the middle of the crowd. Authorities promised to remove the items later, but the crowd demanded it be done immediately.

Local officials ultimately brought three cars to take property out of the place of worship, and at 10:30 a.m. the pews along with other items were seized.

The chairman of the Bandung Muslim Intellectuals Gathering Forum, Abu Sofyan, told reporters that the HKBP Rancaekek church should have been closed since 2006. A lawyer for the HKBP Rancaekek church, Usman Poncho Silitonga, said he did not understand why demonstrations were continuing after the church and others had been sealed.

“There’s no rule that allows the removal of property from the the HKBP church,” he said.

The sealing by the local government was illegal, a church representative said, because it was not given public notice.

Report from Compass Direct News

Islamic Groups in Indonesia Demonstrate against Worship in Mall

Permission for church services in shopping center not necessary, rights advocates say.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, December 2 (CDN) — After closing churches in West Java, South Sulawesi, Sumatra, and other provinces, hard-line Islamic organizations are now attempting to stop Christian worship in or near shopping malls.

Dozens of people from Islamic organizations demonstrated in front of the Gandaria City Mall in south Jakarta on Nov. 19, protesting worship of an unnamed church at the shopping center. After about an hour, mall management in the presence of the sector police chief spoke with demonstrators, who said they opposed the services because there is a Quranic boarding school nearby.

“In front of the mall is a Quranic school that has been there for dozens of years,” said demonstrator Hamdani, according to Poskota newspaper.

The head of the mall, identified only as Ridwan, denied that there was any church or worship service there. He told Poskota that the demonstrators were misinformed and that he had resolved the matter with them.

Jeirry Sumampouw, executive secretary of the diakonia department of the Indonesian Fellowship of Churches, said that no one has the right to forbid worship in a mall. He said a mall is a public space that can be used for any purpose, including worship.

“A mall is multifunctional and can be used in any manner, as long as it is good and doesn’t disturb things,” he said. “The government must be firm with demonstrators who tried to forbid worship services at Gandaria City Mall, because if nothing is done, this can spread to other places.”

The difficulty of getting building permits for churches has caused an increase of worship in malls, Sumampouw said.

“Because of this, many churches are using malls as places of worship,” he said.

He said the state should protect every citizen that worships, especially those in malls or shopping centers.

“Mall managers are often frightened so much that they will forbid worship activities in their malls,” he added.

Citing the Quranic school as a reason to forbid worship at the Gandaria City Mall is without legal basis and highly subjective, Sumampouw said. Raw emotion without consideration of justice motivates those who wish to stop Christian worship, he said, adding that they merely oppose any appearance of Christianity.

“Remember, this is not a country of one religion only,” he said. “These motives are wrong. The reasons to forbid worship are fabricated.”

Sumampouw said opponents’ motives go beyond mere anti-Christian sentiment – there are hoodlums who are intolerant of minority religions, including those who extort money, seize land, and oppose Christians because of personal grievances.

Saor Siagian, coordinator of the Religious Freedom Defense Team, said that Islamic prohibition of worship in malls urgently needed to be addressed.

“If demonstrators are able to prohibit worship activities, it means that they are able to forbid constitutional rights of citizens, because the constitution states that every citizen is free to practice his faith,” he said.

Forcing worship to stop, Siagian said, not only violates the constitution but is also a criminal offense.

“Because of this, the police must act decisively,” he said.

Demonstrators must understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens, he said, because no one has the right to forbid people to practice their faith in Indonesia.

“Because of this, I urge any Christian congregation that is the object of a demonstration to report it to police and lodge a complaint that there is a threat of force,” he said. “It is also fair to see if the demonstrators have a permit or have notified police. There should be no illegal demonstrations.”

Siagian advised all congregations that as citizens they must not give in to vigilantes, including “anyone wearing a robe,” a reference to Muslim extremists from the Islamic Defenders Front and other hard-line groups that wear long white robes.

There is no need to obtain a permit to worship in a mall under Indonesian law, he said. If a worship service took place at Gandaria City Mall, Saor said, the congregation could continue to meet there.

“If a congregation bows to the wishes of a mob, then it is the same as vigilante rule, which violates the constitution,” he said.

Mall managers are not obliged to reject Christian worship, he said, because Article 28 of the 1945 Constitution states that every citizen is free to worship. Siagian added that if Christians were forbidden to worship once a week in a mall, then demonstrators need to be consistent and press for a ban of all forms of worship at malls, including Islamic prayers said five times a day.

“Those would also need to be forbidden,” he said.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, vice president of the Setara Institute for Justice and Peace, said he was surprised at opposition to worship at Gandaria City Mall. Malls are public spaces where many different activities may take place, he said.

“Because it’s a public space, there is no relationship between permits and worship,” he said. “It’s different if you want to erect a church [building] on your own property.”

Naipospos said churches are meeting in malls because obtaining permits is so difficult. The government and the Interfaith Harmony Forum should quickly resolve the conflict, he said.

“I fear that this incident will become a model that will be imitated by intolerant gangs in other places,” he said.

The demonstrators’ reasoning that worship cannot be held because of the nearby Quranic school is not rational, Naipospos said. Because a mall is a public place, he said, it is not beholden to any particular community or religion.

If there happened to be a worship service in Gandaria Mall, Bonar would urge them to continue meeting.

“Let’s not bow to any intolerant hoodlums,” he said. “We don’t need to worry.”

Report from Compass Direct News

Two Churches Forced to Close in Indonesia

Islamists pressure officials to stop Baptist services; Batak worshippers also told to cease.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, February 4 (CDN) — Local governments have ordered the closure of two churches on Indonesia’s Java island.

Under pressure from Islamist groups, authorities ordered Christian Baptist Church in Sepatan, Tangerang district, Banten Province to cease services. In Pondok Timur, near Bekasi in West Java, officials abruptly closed the Huria Christian Protestant Batak Church (HKBP) after delaying a building permit for four years.

Tangerang district authorities issued a decree on Jan. 21 ordering all worship activities to cease at the Baptist church. At a meeting in the district offices, officials pressured church officials to sign a statement that they would stop all worship activities, but they refused.

The Rev. Bedali Hulu said that he received the government order on Jan. 26. In addition, a sign was placed on his church’s worship building saying, “Stop! This building violates government decree number 10 of 2006.”

Hulu told Compass that on Dec. 7 a banner was placed on the street leading to the housing area that said, “We Reject the Presence of Uncontrolled Churches in our Area,” and “We Reject Uncontrolled Churches in Sepatan District.” On Dec. 12, citizens presented a letter rejecting the presence of the congregation to church leaders.

The church has permission to worship from both local citizens and the Christians in accordance with a Joint Ministerial Decree promulgated in 1969 and revised in 2006, Hulu said.

“However, the pressure from Islamic groups is so strong, it’s as if the local government can do nothing,” he said.

Islamic groups stirred up demonstrations against the church on Dec. 19, when 30 people demonstrated during a Christmas celebration for children, and another demonstration followed the next day. On Dec. 27, a large crowd from the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) arrived and demanded that worship cease.

Police on Dec. 29 issued a letter ordering that services stop because they violated local government regulations. The next day church leaders met with local officials but did not reach an agreement.

The church of 130 people has been facing such obstacles since 2006. It began in 2005 after reporting to local authorities and receiving permission.

Opposition from the FPI began the next year, and the church was forced to move services from house to house. On Nov. 4, 2007, as children attended Sunday school, around 10 FPI members arrived and broke up the meeting. On Nov. 19 of that year, several FPI members sent a letter to Hulu warning him and his family to leave the village within six days or the extremists would chase them out.

Hulu left temporarily on the advice of police, but his wife and mother-in-law were allowed to remain.

Last year, unidentified people burned the church building on Sept. 20; police have done nothing, he said.

Closure Order

Near the city of Bekasi, West Java, the government has given a deadline for the cessation of services to the Huria Christian Protestant Batak Church in Pondok Timur. The Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak said that services were ordered to cease after last Sunday (Jan. 31).

The government requested that church officials sign a letter agreeing to this order, but they refused, Simanjuntak said.

The pastor said a local official told them that the order was based on a meeting between the local government and nearby residents who objected to worship services. Simanjuntak told Compass that they were invited to a meeting with the residents who objected, the village officials and the head of the Interfaith Harmony Forum for Bekasi City, Haji Hasnul Chloid Pasaribu. Instead of discussing the situation, however, officials immediately gave the church a letter stating that permission for services extended only to Jan. 31.

“The letter was composed after consulting only one side,” said Simanjuntak. “The church aspirations were never heard.”

The church had been worshipping at that location since 2006.

“From the beginning we worked on the permission, starting at the block level and village level,” he said. “At that time we received permission to worship at my home. We never had problems in our relations with the local citizens.”

The church applied for a worship building permit in 2006, but local officials have yet to act on it, he said.

“Are we not allowed to worship while awaiting the building permit?” Simanjuntak said.

Rev. Gomar Gultom, general secretary of the Indonesian Fellowship of Churches, said that the organization will formulate a request to the Indonesian Senate to provide solutions for the two churches.

“In the near future, we will meet senators from the law and religion committees to discuss this matter,” Gomar said.

Johnny Simanjuntak of the Indonesian National Human Rights Committee told Compass that the government has failed to carry out its constitutional duty to protect freedom of worship for all citizens.

“Clearly the stoppage of any particular religious activity by the government is proof that the government is neglecting the human rights of its citizens,” he said.

Report from Compass Direct News