Under pressure from Islamists, local officials order halt to services in home.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 5 (CDN) — Several Islamic organizations have pressed officials in a sub-district near Indonesia’s capital city to forbid Jakarta Christian Baptist Church to worship in a house, resulting in an order to cease services.
The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the Betawi Forum Group, and political party Hizbut Tahrir have told officials in Sepatan sub-district, Tangerang district, near Jakarta that worship activities cannot be conducted in a residence. The house belongs to the Rev. Bedali Hulu.
Both District Officer Ismet Iskandar and a sub-district officer support the closure and have ordered Hulu to use his home only as a residence, the pastor said. The sub-district officer, who goes by the single name of Rusdy, has sent a notice ordering an end to all worship at the house.
“But they have not put forth a solution,” Hulu said. “For a long time we have suggested that we build a place of worship, but there has been no response from the local government.”
On Sept. 27 a large crowd came to the house and demanded a stop to the Sunday worship service, Hulu said. Visibly frightened and anxious, the congregation hurried through the service.
An Islamic throng also came to the house on Sept. 13, with hundreds barging in and forcing the congregation out, Hulu said. Worship did not take place that day.
In another incident on the night of Sept. 19, unknown persons burned a vehicle belonging to the church. Hulu said the car was parked in front of his house. The next day Hulu reported the incident to police, who promised to catch the culprit, though at press time no one had been arrested.
Security forces, however, were able to maintain peace the next day when a mob showed up at the house, Hulu said; worship took place free of incident.
Church members feel terrorized by the mobs, the pastor said, but the nearest house of worship is several miles away, and many congregants do not have access to transportation. The Sepatan church has been serving worshippers, mostly day laborers, in Pisangan village since 2005.
“In the beginning we approached religious and community leaders and asked for permission to worship,” Hulu said. “They had no objections.”
Hulu established the church in June 2005 and held services in his home until December 2006 without objection from neighbors. He had obtained written permission from a local official to hold the services, and the church was registered with Religious Affairs authorities.
When the church planned to hold a Christmas celebration in December 2006, however, FPI members began an extended intimidation campaign with the express goal of ending “illegal” Christian activity in the village.
A Joint Ministerial Decree promulgated in 1969 and revised in 2006 requires a congregation of at least 90 adult members, the permission of at least 60 neighbors and a permit from local authorities to establish a place of worship. Church leaders say it is virtually impossible to obtain a permit under these terms.
The Rev. Wilhelmus Latumahina, head of the Fellowship of Pentecostal Churches of Banten Province, said that for years different groups have requested permission to build places of worship in Sepatan sub-district, with no response from officials.
He added that if the government closes a church, it is obligated to provide a solution.
Hulu said he would like to negotiate a solution. The pastor said he has tried repeatedly to meet with Sub-district Officer Rusdy but has been told that the official was not in the office.
Hulu said outside Islamists have incited local people to oppose the church.
Two years ago Islamists succeeded in closing the church, and Hulu was temporarily forced from the area. On Nov. 4, 2007, as children attended Sunday school at the church, a group of around 10 FPI members arrived and broke up the meeting. On Nov. 19 of that year, several FPI associates 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.
When Hulu filed another police report, the police summoned him to a meeting at the home of FPI leader Habib Muhammad Assegaf. While Hulu and his wife met with Assegaf, a church member sent a text message informing them that a small mob had attacked the church, breaking windows and taking church property. The mob also forced Hulu’s mother-in-law to leave the building.
Hulu reported this incident to district police in Tangerang, who informed him that he could either return to Pisangan village and cease all religious activity, or pursue the matter through legal channels. Weary of the constant pressure, Hulu filed an official complaint.
A Pisangan FPI leader who goes by the single name of Ocit then demanded that Hulu withdraw his complaint or else FPI members would raid the homes of individual church members.
Tensions were subsequently resolved through dialogue facilitated by a member of the Tangerang Parliament, Hanie Lawrence, and worship was permitted to resume. A number of radical Muslim organizations, however, have now resumed the fight to close the church.
Agus Andrianto, police chief of Tangerang district, said his forces are doing everything possible to maintain peace in Sepatan.
“It is our job to curb excesses,” he said. “We don’t want anything to get out of hand.”
Report from Compass Direct News