Court Reverses Revocation of Indonesian Church’s Building Permit

Outside Islamists had intimidated local officials into withdrawing approval.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 8 (CDN) — A court in West Java has reversed the revocation of a Catholic church’s building permit.

The Purwakarta regency government had revoked the building permit for Santa Maria Catholic Church when Islamists threatened local residents and officials into opposing the project, church leaders said.

The church sued the Purwakarta regency for revoking the approved building permit in Cinangka village last October, and in a little-publicized court ruling on Feb. 25, a judge in a state court in Bandung, West Java decided in favor of the church.

“The error arose when external forces pressured the Purwakarta government so much that it revoked the building permit,” the head of the church legal team, Dr. Liona Nanang, told Compass. “Government sources have admitted that this was done because of outside pressure.”

The church official said objections to the church under construction did not come from residents of Cinangka village, where the church is located.

“We called the village headman and the block captains to testify,” Nanang said. “According to them, the objections are not from Cinangka villagers, but from citizens of Cikampek, which is not even in our district [county].”

The Purwakarta government is planning to appeal the case, but Nanang said church lawyers are optimistic that construction likely would resume once the High Court in Jakarta rules.

On Oct. 16 the regent of Purwakarta regency, Dedi Mulyadi, revoked the construction permit after Islamists threatened some of the local residents whose approval is required by Indonesian law. Church leaders said members of the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI) “continually terrorized” both the regent and residents who had previously given their approval.

A Joint Ministerial Decree promulgated in 1969 and revised in 2006 requires the permission of more than 60 neighbors and a permit from local authorities to establish a place of worship. The more than 60 local citizens giving their approval must provide photocopies of their identity cards.

Nanang said that the judge agreed with the plaintiff that there had not been any irregularities in the process of obtaining a building permit. The judge found that the Purwakarta government had violated basic principles of good government including justice and the rule of law.

“A building permit can be legally cancelled if there is no construction activity within six months of the date of publication of the permit,” Liona told Compass. “However, Santa Maria Church began to build immediately.”

The court also ruled that the Purwakarta government had no legal reason to revoke the building permit. The Joint Ministerial Decree Number requires not only a minimum of 60 signatures of those not using the building but a minimum of 90 signatures of those who will use it, and the church had obtained the signatures of 93 non-users and 170 church members who would use the building.

The Rev. Augustinus Made of Santa Maria Catholic Church concurred that revocation of the building permit came about from extremely heavy pressure from the FPI and other radical Muslim groups.

“We rejoice in the verdict,” he said. “We had fulfilled all of the regulations. We built on land that had been zoned for a house of worship – land that we purchased.”

At the time the building permit was revoked, land had been prepared, the area fenced and the foundation laid.

The church had planned its building on a 5,000-square meter lot in a sparsely populated industrial area on land zoned for houses of worship. The congregation of over 1,000 has been worshipping in a steel factory warehouse some distance from the building site since its inception in 2002.

The lot developer had supplied facilities for all faiths; Muslims have two large mosques and an Islamic chapel at each factory. The government plan for the Bukit Indah Industrial Park included facilities for general and social purposes, including places of worship.

Report from Compass Direct News 


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Karnataka, November 18 (Compass Direct News) – Police on Nov. 16 arrested a pastor and charged him with “hurting religious sentiments” in Vangasandra, Hosur Road, Bangalore, after a mob of Hindu extremists stormed into his house church service and struck him. Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said that at 11 a.m. a mob of nearly 25 Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) barged into the house church service and repeatedly slapped the pastor, identified only as Sujnanamm, and shouted filthy curses at the 15 other Christians present. Laxminarayan Gowda, GCIC regional coordinator, told Compass that the extremists beat one of the Christians who tried to help the pastor. The intolerant Hindus forced Pastor Sujnanamm, with his nose bleeding, to go with them to the Madivala police station and registered a false complaint of forcible conversion against him, Gowda said. “On being questioned about his Christian activities, Sujnanamm told the police that he was a student at BBBC [Bhirian Baptist Bible College],” Gowda said. “This angered the police, who summoned the Rev. Edwin Chilli, president of the BBBC, to the police station and charged him under Section 506 for criminal intimidation.” At press time both Christian leaders were still in jail.

Karnataka – Police arrested three Christians on Nov. 12 on charges of attempted Christian conversion by allurement in Cox Town, Bangalore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that a Christian man identified only as Chandrasekhar and two Christian women, identified only as Kamlamma and Sandhya, all of Pavithra Agni Church, went to a slum area in Jeevanahalli to pray for a sick couple. On their way back home, nearly 20 Hindu extremists belonging to the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh attacked them, snatched their bags, verbally abused them and falsely accused them of forcible conversion, then phoned a local police station. The Frazer Town Police took the three Christians to the police station and arrested them for “hurting religious sentiments” and “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person.” The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that an employer of the slum dwellers identified only as Mr. Gowda also filed a complaint against the Christians for allegedly inducing people to convert to Christianity by fraudulent means. The two women were remanded to custody, and Chandrasekhar was sent to a jail the next day. The three Christians appeared in court on Nov. 13 and were ordered to remain in police custody till Nov. 28, according to the EFI.

KarnatakaHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) on Nov. 9 falsely accused a pastor of forced conversion, beat him and verbally abused Christian women in Banavara, Arasikere Taluk, Hassan district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that pastor Ravi Charles of Jesus Prayer Hall was summoned to perform the funeral service of a church member, a convert from Hinduism identified only as Girijama. As the pastor, his wife and other Christians reached the house of the deceased, an argument broke out among family members on whether the funeral was to proceed under Christian or Hindu rites. Hindu relatives informed VHP extremists. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that the VHP extremists arrived, accused the pastor of forced conversion and started beating him, as well as verbally abusing the Christian women. The extremists called police, who detained them for four hours and released them without charges.

Karnataka – Police on Nov. 4 arrested Benjamin Bommai, 52, of the Manonidhi Institute of Nursing (MIN) in Chamarajanagar district, on charges of forced conversion. MIN Manager Shailaja Krupanidhi told Compass that police summoned Bommai for questioning regarding a case filed by Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal in 2006 for distributing gospel tracts at Manonidhi College. The extremists had charged Bommai with trying to forcibly convert students. “On Nov. 4, Bommai was only called for enquiry – he did not distribute tracts or anything, but police arrested him,” said Krupanidhi. Bommai appeared before the district magistrate and was later sent to the Chamrajanagar jail. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that police arrested Bommai for promoting enmity between different groups of religion under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code. “Bommai was released on bail the next evening,” said Krupanidhi.

Uttarakhand – Hindu extremists vandalized a church, severely injured a pastor’s ear drum and stole donation and offering bags on Nov. 3 in Dehradun. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India, about 30 Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal barged into the worship hall of Bethesda Church and damaged Bibles and gospel literature and furniture. The assailants took the church’s offering and donation boxes along with important papers. The extremists also attacked Asher Wasker, a pastor from God’s Church in neighboring Rajpur, who had come to the aid of the attacked church. Pastor Wasker suffered internal injuries and his right ear drum was severely injured. Bethesda Church’s caretaker and Pastor Wasker filed a complaint with the help of area Christian leaders, and three Hindu extremists were arrested for voluntarily causing hurt and damage, for trespassing and wrongful restraint, for theft and for defiling a place of worship.

Karnataka – Police on Nov. 2 disrupted the Sunday worship service of a house church in Thimannakatte village, Haveri district, based on an accusation of forced conversion. According to the Christian Legal Association, police barged into the house church of the Dheiwah Ministry because villagers had accused pastor Rangaiah Nagaraj of forcible conversion. Police warned the pastor to obtain prior permission in order to conduct future worship meetings. But Inspector Krishan Junoor later said the pastor could continue to conduct worship meetings under police protection, adding that normalcy had returned to the area. No arrests had been made.

Andhra Pradesh – Nizambad district police detained a pastor for one-and-a-half days on a complaint of forced conversion filed against him by Hindu extremists on Oct. 24 in Nandipet Mandal, Nizambad. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that at about 8 a.m., 20 Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh barged into the house of pastor Martin Luther of Believers Church and attacked him, dragging him to the police station and accusing him of forcible conversion. The pastor was released after local Christian leaders met with Sub-Inspector Shiva Shankar.

Madhya Pradesh – Police on Oct. 12 arrested a pastor on charges of “fraudulent conversion” in Dhamnod town, Dhar District. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that a complaint from a local resident led police to raid pastor Ganesh Bharud’s house church, seize Bibles, hymnals and gospel tracts, chase away the 25 Christians assembled for Sunday worship and force Bharud to the Dhamnod police station. A GCIC representative told Compass that the local resident had accused Bharud of inducing people to convert with false promises of an overseas job. Police officials told Compass that Bharud was released on bail on Oct. 13 at 5:30 p.m.  

Report from Compass Direct News