Police Keep Indonesian Church from Worship Site after Attack

Bekasi officials unable to persuade HKBP congregation to relocate to alternative venue.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 23 (CDN) — Following attacks on their church leaders on Sept. 12, a West Java congregation on Sunday (Sept. 19) faced a wall of security officers blocking them from worshipping on their property as authorities tried to coax them to meet at another venue.

Hundreds of security force officers sealed off the street leading to their open-air worship site in Ciketing, near Bekasi, a week after suspected Islamists stabbed Batak Christian Protestant Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan, or HKBP) elder Hasian Sihombing and struck Pastor Luspida Simanjuntak with a wooden block. At the Pondok Timur location where the church had gathered to walk three kilometers (less than two miles) to Ciketing on Sunday, an official in a police vehicle announced through a loudspeaker that the Bekasi government requested they worship at the former office of a community organization.

When Compass arrived at the Pondok Timur area, there were 1,500 regular police and public order security police officers standing by, some forming ranks in front of the Nurul Hulda Mosque 500 meters away.

The official on the loudspeaker read a decree by Bekasi Mayor H. Mochtar Muhammad stating that security problems in the Mustika Jaya area were caused by the HKBP worship in Ciketing – where Islamists have staged protests in spite of a mayoral decree granting the congregation the right to worship there – and that in order to guard against further incidents, the church was no longer to hold services there.

“From now on, HKBP will hold its worship services in the [former] Organization & Political Party Building [the auditorium in back of several buildings occupied by different political parties] on Charil Anwar Street in Bekasi City,” he said.

The new mayoral decree dictating where the church was to worship was the product of a Sept. 15 meeting of the West Java governor, the Jakarta area military commander, Jakarta area police, the general secretary and the director general of the Ministry of the Interior, and the Department of Religion, he said.

“We invite the HKBP members to climb aboard the seven buses that we have prepared to take them to the [former] Organization & Political Party [OPP] building,” the official said to the congregation, which had gathered outside the Pondok Timur area building they had used for worship before authorities sealed it in June.

The HKBP congregation ignored the invitation. Muhammad Jufri, head of the Bekasi municipal legal department, then invited the congregation to board the buses. No one responded.

A few minutes later the Rev. Pietersen Purba, district head of the HKBP Pondok Timur District, along with two other pastors and two lawyers, requested that the congregation be allowed to worship at the open-air site on their property in Ciketing. Authorities denied the request.

An argument ensued between Bekasi officials and HKBP leaders.

“For our common good, both government and congregation, and in accordance with the decision of the coordinating meeting, we have prepared a temporary worship place at the former OPP building,” said Jufri, of the Bekasi legal department. “Because of this you may worship there, and while you are worshipping the municipal government guarantees your safety.”

Pastor Purba responded by requesting security for their current location.

“I am surprised that we are forbidden to worship on our own property,” he told authorities. “Our services there were sanctioned by a letter from the mayor that allows us to worship in Ciketing. We are the victims – my pastor was beaten. Are we not citizens with the right to worship in this country? Because of this we ask that the police help us with security so that we may worship in Ciketing. The congregation and I desire to worship there.”

HKBP lawyer Saor Siagian asked a policeman to open the way toward their property in Ciketing; the officer refused.

Jufri then began to read the mayor’s new decree aloud, but he had spoken only a few sentences before one of the HKBP lawyers, Sahala Pangaribuan, interrupted him.

“Sir, if you want to read, do so, but don’t prevent us from walking,” Pangaribuan said.

Jufri continued reading the entire decree.

“We heard what you read,” Pastor Purba replied, “but we don’t easily believe our beloved government, because we remember the case of HKBP Jatimulyo, Bekasi, which was sealed by the government, and then promised facilities for a place of worship. Now it has been five years, and the promise is still unfulfilled.”

The argument lasted another 30 minutes, and the congregation gave up on its request to meet in Ciketing. They were granted 10 minutes to pray in their former Pondok Timur building and additional time for congregational discussion, which was led by the national secretary general of the HKBP, the Rev. Ramlan Hutahayan.

At press conference later that day, Hutahayan said that freedom of worship was fundamental.

“We hope that every citizen will have the right to construct houses of worship to praise and glorify God together,” he said.

Bekasi officials have offered the former OPP building as a temporary venue for worship and two alternative locations on land zoned for general and/or social purposes: one owned by P.T. Timah and one belonging to the Strada Foundation. Thus far the congregation has not approved of these alternatives because they are far from their homes.

At a press conference with other Christian leaders, the head of the Jakarta Christian Communication General Forum, Theophilus Bela, said a statement by the Jakarta provincial police chief that the Sept. 12 attack on the church leaders was a “purely criminal act” was hasty.

“After arrests and investigation, it has been shown that this is not a pure criminal act, but an organized scenario with the Islamic Defenders Front as the field command,” Bela said.

He and other Christian leaders criticized government officials for closing churches and revoking church building permits that had already been approved.

“They have been passive in the face of anarchy and terrorist acts that have been done in the name of religion by groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, the Betawi-Rempug Forum, the Islamic Congregation Forum, the Congress of the Indonesian Muslim Community, and so on,” he said.

Report from Compass Direct News

Five More Christian Leaders Sentenced in China

Arbitrary administrative decision sends church leaders to re-education labor camp.

LOS ANGELES, December 3 (CDN) — Bypassing the court system, China arbitrarily sentenced five more leaders of the Fushan Church in Linfen City, Shanxi Province, on Monday (Nov. 30), this time to re-education labor camps for two years, according to China Aid Association (CAA).

A Chinese court last week sentenced five house church leaders to three to seven years in prison after they were arrested en route to Beijing to file a complaint about an attack on their church, according to the advocacy organization. The five leaders sentenced to labor camps this week were accused of “gathering people to disturb the public order” after they organized a prayer rally of 1,000 people the day after military police and others attacked their church members and building on Sept. 13.

In what CAA termed “an arbitrary administrative sentence by the Public Security Bureau enacted so the leaders would not be ‘required’ to go through the court and prosecution system,” China delivered the verdicts to church leaders Li Shuangping, Yang Hongzhen, Yang Caizhen (wife of Pastor Yang Xuan, who was sentenced to three years of prison on Nov. 25), Gao Qin (also known as Gao Fuqin), and Zhao Guoai.

“Yang Caizhen was seen being beaten severely during an interrogation,” CAA said in a press statement. “Having had one of her front teeth knocked out during a beating, and fasting and praying during her detention, Ms. Yang is reported to look very fragile.”

The church leaders, the latter four women, were arrested on Nov. 11. They had helped to organize a prayer rally after the Sept. 13 attack on the Fushan Church branch congregation in Linfen, when some 400 uniformed police and civilians bearing shovels, batons, bricks, iron hooks and other weapons had beaten members of the church who were sleeping at the nearly finished factory building used as a worship site.

With several Fushan County officials involved in the attack, more than 30 Christians were seriously injured among the 100 Christians who were hurt, CAA reported. According to the Epoch Times, a church member’s relative obtained a license to build the shoe factory and was allowing the group to meet there, as the church was growing too large to meet in homes and the building could hold up to 400 people.

As Chinese authorities had kept the families of Gao Qin and Zhao Guoai under tight surveillance, CAA relied on church sources to confirm their sentences to labor camp. The organization said family members had confirmed the sentences of the other three.

“Linfen house church Christians continue to be monitored by Chinese military police, including neighboring Golden Lampstand Church (Jin Dongtai) in Linfen City,” CAA stated.

The organization said authorities violated Chinese law by refusing to provide family members of the prisoners with copies of documents notifying them of the sentences.

All 10 of the Fushan Church leaders plan to appeal their sentences, according to CAA.

“To arbitrarily send five innocent citizens to labor camps is in direct violation against the international human rights covenants and norms the Chinese government has signed and even ratified,” said CAA President Bob Fu.

The five pastors previously sentenced were arrested on Sept. 25 without a warrant, according to CAA. Yang Rongli was sent to prison for seven years for “illegally occupying farming land” and “disturbing transportation order by gathering masses.”

She and four other pastors were sentenced on Wednesday (Nov. 25) at the People’s Court of Raodu district, Linfen City, Shanxi Province. Yang’s husband, Wang Xiaoguang, was handed a sentence of three years on the charge of “illegally occupying farming land.” Cui Jiaxing was sentenced to four and half years, and Yang Xuan to three and half years, on the same charge; Zhang Huamei received four years of prison for “disturbing transportation order by gathering masses.”

The pastors were arrested by Shanxi Province officers of the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Fu characterized their trial as a farce, saying the case demonstrated a deteriorating state of religious freedom in China.

Yang Rongli and Wang Xiaoguang had led the Fushan Church, part of a 50,000-strong house church network in Linfen and the surrounding villages, for more than 30 years.

The Beijing PSB has misrepresented the demolition and attack on the Linfen branch church as a response to a “violent uprising,” Fu said.

Report from Compass Direct News 


TSPM offers Bibles and “assistance,” but rights groups say efforts fall short.

DUBLIN, December 9 (Compass Direct News) – In recent months Chinese officials have attempted to build bridges with the Protestant house church movement even as police raided more unregistered congregations, arrested Christian leaders and forced at least 400 college students to swear they would stop attending such worship services.

With rights groups saying more effort is needed to address rights abuses and secure full religious freedom for Chinese Christians, two research institutes – one from the government – organized an unprecedented symposium on Nov. 21-22 that concluded with an agreement for house church leaders to begin a dialogue with government officials.

A delegation of six house church leaders from Beijing, Henan and Wenzhou provinces attended the seminar, entitled, “Christianity and Social Harmony: A Seminar on the Issue of Chinese House Churches,” along with scholars and experts from universities and independent research facilities. Members of the Minorities Development Research Institute, a branch of the China State Council’s Research and Development Centre, and the Beijing Pacific Solutions Social Science Research Institute co-hosted it.

In a report summarizing the forum, Beijing house church representative Liu Tong Su said that China’s religious institutions and regulations were clearly outdated and inadequate to meet the needs of the church.

At the conclusion of the meeting, house church delegates agreed to dialogue with the government, Liu said, though he insisted, “Only God can control the spirituality of faith. No worldly authorities have the right to control a man’s spirit.”

The government has been entrusted by God with the authority to maintain external public order, Liu added.

“If the government can limit its governing territory to areas of maintaining public order in external conduct, then according to the teachings of the Bible, the house church will definitely obey those in authority within the boundary that God has set,” he said.

Experts presented reports on the rapid development of house church networks, including the number of Christians, geographical distribution, cultural and ethnic make-up and connection with foreign Christians, according to the Gospel Herald.

A month earlier, the chairman of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) – responsible along with the China Christian Council (CCC) for overseeing China’s Protestant churches – told a gathering of 200 Hong Kong church leaders of his desire to assist Chinese house churches and provide them with Bibles, according to Ecumenical News International (ENI).

At the Oct. 22 conference entitled, “Chinese Church – New Leaders, New Challenges,” TSPM Chairman Fu Xianwei declared, “For those house churches without registration, we will try our best to be with them, to recognize them and to help them, so long as they have an orthodox faith, don’t stray from the truth and don’t follow heretics.”

Fu and 11 other members of the newly-elected leadership team of the CCC/TSPM also said they were willing to provide house churches with Bibles, ENI reported.

Bible distribution is largely the responsibility of Amity Press, China’s only official Bible printing company, which recently announced its intention to place more Bibles in the hands of rural Christians. Daniel Willis, CEO of the Bible Society in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, launched an appeal on Nov. 12 to support Amity in this goal.

Speaking at the launch, Willis asserted, “Smuggling Bibles into China places Chinese Christians at risk, and now with the new Amity Press operational in Nanjing, smuggling is a waste of resources.”

Amity opened a new multimillion dollar printing facility in May with a capacity to print 12 million Bibles per year. Most of those Bibles are printed in foreign languages for export outside China.

“China is experiencing a great freedom of worship,” Willis added. “With this wonderful change the church is spreading rapidly … Each Chinese Christian would like to experience the joy … that owning their own Bible brings – but unfortunately for many, obtaining a Bible is difficult and often out of their reach financially.”

The China Aid Association (CAA) issued a statement on Nov. 20 that Amity did not produce enough Bibles to meet the vast needs of the church in China or to replace lost or worn copies. It also pointed out that distribution was still strictly limited to government-approved channels.

Earlier this year, the Rev. Dr. Chow Lien-Hwa, vice-chairman of the board of Amity Press, stated in an interview with the NSW Bible Society that Amity was printing 3 million Bibles per year for mainland China. Chow also outlined a plan to allow Bible distribution through a chain of government bookshops and claimed that house church Christians could buy Bibles from TSPM churches without having to provide personal identity information.

Pastors from both house churches and official TSPM congregations have reported to Compass a shortage of Bibles and other Christian materials in Beijing, the northwest, the northeast, and the southwest. Church growth in tribal areas also has created an urgent need for Bibles in minority languages.


Raids, Arrests Continue

Rights groups pointed to recent raids and arrests, however, as confirmation that Chinese authorities still restrict freedom of worship for local house church Christians.

Police raided a house church gathering in Tai Kang county, Henan province on Dec. 3 and arrested all 50 Christians, CAA reported on Thursday (Dec. 4). Public Security Bureau officers also raided another gathering of 50 house church believers in Xiji town, Zaozhuang city, Shandong province on Dec. 2, arresting 20 Christian leaders and demanding a fine of 2,500 yuan (US$365) per person to secure their release.

CAA also confirmed that police carried out multiple raids on house church gatherings in Beijing and in areas near college campuses in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, from late September to early November, detaining leaders of the Local Church house church network. Four leaders in Zhejiang were sentenced to labor camp for 12 to 18 months.

Officers also arrested at least 400 Christian college students. After intense questioning, police forced each student to write a statement of repentance agreeing to forsake such gatherings.

Commenting on reports of persecution in China, Chow of Amity Press claimed victims were not true Chinese citizens, but Chinese with foreign citizenship who had entered China to carry out illegal activities.

“When we go to another country we must be law-abiding citizens of that country,” Chow insisted. “The law, whether you like it or not, says you can only preach in the churches, you cannot go on the street.”

Some house churches are actively seeking registration with authorities to avoid arrests and inconveniences, ENI reported in October. Such groups, however, prefer to register outside the CCC/TSPM structure, disagreeing that different Protestant beliefs can be reconciled under the TSPM as a self-described “post-denominational” umbrella organization.

House church members also object to the TSPM’s interference in congregational practices, according toe the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report 2008. The report notes that many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members, or fear that it will control sermon content.


Released from Prison

Responding to international pressure, officials on Dec. 2 released house church pastor Zhu Baoguo of Henan province, citing medical reasons. Authorities had raided a house church gathering on Oct. 12, arresting Zhu and four other leaders, before sentencing Zhu on Oct. 30 to one year in labor camp, CAA reported.

Officials also released house church pastor Wang Weiliang from prison on Nov. 25 for medical reasons, according to CAA. Authorities sentenced Wang to three years in prison in December 2006 for protesting the July 2006 destruction of Dangshanwan Christian church in Xiaoshan, Zhejiang province. Seven other believers were arrested at the time; authorities have released all but one, who remains in detention in Hangzhou.


A Breakthrough for China’s House Churches?

At last month’s symposium on Chinese house churches, officials from government research organs, scholars from government think-tanks and universities, independent researchers and an unprecedented delegation of six house church leaders from Beijing, Henan and Wenzhou attended.

At the groundbreaking conference, sponsored by the Minorities Development Research Institute of the China State Council’s Research and Development Center and the Beijing Pacific Solutions Social Science Research Institute and entitled, “Christianity and Social Harmony: A Seminar on the Issue of the Chinese House Churches,” participants discussed every aspect of the house church movement in China.

Statistics were a key issue, with most agreeing that the number of house church members was vast and rapidly increasing. Estimates ranged from 50 million to 100 million members of Protestant house churches, as compared with approximately 20 million members of registered Protestant churches.

Delegates were surprisingly bold in their discussion and criticism of China’s religious policy, and several put forward practical plans for the abolition of institutions such as the State Administration for Religious Affairs (formerly the Religious Affairs Bureau) and the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement.

They also called for serious and ongoing discussions between the government and house churches, and Christian leaders called for the lifting of a ban on house churches and a review of restrictions on church registration and appointment of pastors.

Many participants agreed that the democratic management of house churches in accordance with the rule of law was a logical step to bring religious policies into line with China’s open-door economic policies.

While certain sectors of leadership may welcome these suggestions, others entrenched in the atheist system of the Communist Party were expected to balk at such reforms.  

Report from Compass Direct News


Public Order officer warns ministry chairman to be ‘careful of your life.’

JAKARTA, September 3 (Compass Direct News) – A land dispute led to two attacks on the headquarters of the Indonesian Christian Students’ Movement (GMKI) and its parent ministry, the Alliance of Indonesian Churches (PGI), last week (August 26 and 28).

Sources said an illegal land deal in Jakarta has created the bitter dispute between the GMKI and a private company that claims it has the legal right to build on land previously occupied by GMKI.

GMKI and PGI share an office on the disputed land. Sources said that on August 26 volunteer Public Order officials – who normally mediate local disputes, but who in this case have sided with the private company laying claim to the land, Kencana Indotama Persada Co. (KIP) – threw stones at the Christian organizations’ offices and damaged doors, windows and student motorbikes.

On Thursday (Aug. 28), according to sources, the Public Order officers again attacked the premises, this time using heavy implements to break glass panes and damage other property. Students present fled to a nearby office of the Indonesia Bible Institute (LAI). Policemen standing nearby on the street made no attempt to intervene.


Mysterious Appropriation

The disputed property is a large piece of land originally granted by the Dutch colonial government to the Vereneging Christian School (VCS) Foundation. The VCS then gave the land to the Christian School Association, which in turn passed it on to a branch of its own association, the Christian Education Foundation (YBPK).

Although occupied by many Christian ministries and associations, including the Christian University of Indonesia and LAI, sources said the land belonged to YBPK.

Under the terms of the land grant, the land could not legally be sold to business entities, according to GMKI lawyer Nikson Lalu. In August 2006, however, a board member of YBPK, acting independently of the board, sold a small plot of land to KIP. An old office belonging to GMKI was still standing on the plot of land, adjacent to a newer building shared by GMKI and PGI.

Compass sources noted that a gas station and business offices had replaced other ministry offices on the granted land. It was not clear, however, how the businesses had appropriated the land from YBPK.


Dispute Escalates

Sources said that on August 23, at around 5 p.m., Public Order officer Simanjuntak, who has only a single name, visited the GMKI office and informed staff members that a boundary wall would be built between their current building and the old building, which was now considered the property of KIP.

KIP then erected a boundary wall between the two buildings, sources said, and KIP construction workers also used a bulldozer to partially demolish the old GMKI office despite protests from GMKI Chairman Charles Hutahaean. On August 26, GMKI students demolished the boundary wall that KIP had erected.

GMKI had filed a complaint against KIP in the district court, according to sources, but the court ruled in favor of KIP. GMKI’s lawyer then took the case to the Supreme Court, which at press time had yet to announce a decision.

Sources said that KIP claimed it had a previous letter of decision from the Supreme Court stating that KIP was the owner of the disputed land, despite the fact that the land could not legally be sold to a business enterprise.

A day before the first attack, Public Order officers had a confrontation with GMKI students. On August 25, Public Order officers noted that GMKI students had erected a banner inside their own boundary fence, facing the street, protesting against a new bylaw forbidding the sale of fruit, cigarettes and other goods by street vendors in the area.

When officers tried to remove the banner, according to sources, the students protested, claiming that since the banner was on their own property, they did not require a permit from the district office to display it.


Attacks, Threat

At around 4 p.m. on August 26, a large group of Public Order officers returned to the shared GMKI and PGI premises and began to throw stones at the building, breaking glass window and door panes and damaging motorbikes owned by GMKI students.

Sources said the students threw stones back at the officers, who then scaled the fence and tried to break into the PGI building itself; a PGI security guard managed to stop them.

The following day, Jakarta Vice-Governor Prijanto, who has only a single name, met with PGI Chairman Andreas Yewangoe and other PGI leaders. He apologized for the disturbance and promised compensation for the damaged property.

Additionally, Engkartiasto Lukito of the Golkar party and Ara Sirait of the Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party (PdiP) came to offer condolences, as did Hasyim Muzadi, leader of Nahdatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia.

Nevertheless, on Thursday (Aug. 28), Public Order officers returned to carry out the second attack.

A Public Order officer involved in the dispute also warned GMKI Chairman Hutahaean to be “careful with your life.”

Compass sources explained that Public Order officers would likely benefit financially from protecting the business interests of KIP.

KIP construction workers on Friday (August 29) erected a sign on the disputed plot of land adjacent to the GMKI and PGI building, declaring that the land belonged to KIP.  

Report from Compass Direct News


Principal refuses; mobs with knives and sharpened bamboo still active.

JAKARTA, August 28 (Compass Direct News) –The manager of a campground in East Jakarta this week asked staff members and 600 female students from a theological college who had taken refuge there to leave and pay stiff fees.

Officials had sent the students to the facility after a violent mob attacked the Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology (SETIA) in East Jakarta on July 25. Principal Matheus Mangentang refused to leave, saying that Fauzi Bowo, governor of Jakarta, had ordered them to stay at the campground.

He further asked that the manager send the bill, amounting to 268 million rupiah (US$29,000) for four weeks of accommodation, to the governor’s office. The governor then suggested moving the staff and students to an old building once used as the office for the mayor of West Jakarta.

Mangentang again refused, as the building would accommodate only 100 students and has very limited water and bathroom facilities.

Protestors first attacked the SETIA campus in Kampung Pulo, East Jakarta, on July 25. When police intervention failed, staff members and students were evacuated on July 26 and 27, even as protestors armed with swords, machetes, bamboo stakes and acid continued to attack them.

At least 20 students were injured in the attack, some with sword slashes.

Following the evacuation, some students were temporarily billeted in church offices, while others slept in the lobby of Indonesia’s parliament building. Officials then moved the female students to the Bumi Perkemahan Cibubur (BUPERTA) campground in East Jakarta, while the 500 male students were sent to a transmigrant accommodation facility in Bekasi.

At press time, police had still not arrested anyone in relation to the attack nor carried out an investigation.

The school, founded 21 years ago, has full legal permission and registration to operate. While now sitting in the middle of a populated area, when originally established the college was surrounded only by cornfields and banana plantations. (See Compass Direct News, “Students Demand Safe Return to College in Indonesia,” July 31.)


Mobs Still Active

When a rumor spread that SETIA students would return to the campus on Sunday (August 24), a mob assembled at the entrance gate, equipped with swords, knives and sharpened bamboo stakes. The rumor, however, was false, and the mob eventually dispersed.

On August 21, when staff member Miryo Suripati returned to her home near the campus to collect some clothing, a crowd of young people carrying swords and other weapons gathered outside the building. A local public order official explained that Suripati was not a student but a resident of the community and quickly escorted her out of the housing estate.

A handful of men who declared themselves spokesmen for the Kampung Pulo area have since claimed that residents object to the presence of the college. Compass sources refuted this claim, pointing out that students were welcome customers at area photocopying facilities, snack shops and other retail outlets, while residents were employed at the college as kitchen hands, cooks and security personnel.

The mobs were mostly composed of people from neighboring communities, not local residents, sources said.


Female Students in Tents

The BUPERTA campground is about a 90-minute drive from Jakarta, far from snack shops or stores selling daily necessities.

The female students are accommodated in large tents, with their belongings stacked against the tent walls, limited laundry and toilet facilities and a makeshift open-air kitchen. Some students expressed concern that the rainy season might begin soon, turning the flat campground into a swamp.

Church leaders who recently visited BUPERTA and took note of conditions said they would lobby the governor for permission for the students to return to their campus.

Several students, including Julidana Reva and Lasse (who has only a single name), who traveled from distant Nias Island to study at SETIA, told Compass that study was extremely difficult under these circumstances and that their lives were virtually “on hold” until they returned to campus.  

Report from Compass Direct News


Attack mainly by outsiders carried out during Independence Day celebrations.

JAKARTA, August 19 (Compass Direct News) – On Sunday (August 17) a Muslim mob stormed a church service in Cipayung, East Jakarta, forcing Christians to flee and then erecting banners in the street declaring a ban on “churches and religious services.”

As about 20 church members were celebrating the nation’s Independence Day at the service, the angry assailants arrived at the Pentecostal Church of Indonesia in Pondok Rangon village, Cipayung, at 9:30 a.m. shouting “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is greater!” Some in the mob were neighbors, but the majority were not local residents, according to pastor Chris Ambessa.

Church members tried to close the gate leading into the church compound, but the mob forced its way in, storming into the welcoming room of the church and overturning furniture.

Ambessa managed to close a roller door protecting the room where services were held. But the attackers then chased church members out into the street, warning them not to return for future services.

The intruders then erected large banners in the street declaring a ban on “churches and religious services” in the village. Technically prior approval from district officials is required to erect such banners, but Public Order official Hadi Sumantri and plainclothes policemen present made no attempt to intervene or remove them.

Two days prior to this incident, Ambessa sought permission from district officials to hold a special thanksgiving service on Independence Day. Officials gave verbal approval, despite contention over the existence of the church.


Demolition Order

Ambessa has been in the middle of a dispute over his house church. On July 3 the Cipayung civil engineering department had ordered Ambessa to dismantle the second floor of his home, and on July 13 it ordered him to cease religious activity for an indefinite period following neighborhood protests against the house church. Neighbors had demanded that Ambessa completely demolish the building.

Ambessa, whose home has functioned as a legally recognized house church for the past 12 years, built the second floor extension to accommodate his growing congregation. Realizing the prohibitive cost and difficulty of obtaining a Religious Building Permit (IMB), and on grounds that the building was a residential home, Ambessa had proceeded with the extension without applying for the IMB.

Ambessa’s lawyer, August Pasaribu, told Compass he planned to challenge the demolition order, since the demand was in breach of local regulations.

Construction of the extension was completed on May 17. On May 21, a neighborhood group threatened Ambessa and forced him to sign a document stating that he would cease holding church services in his home. Ambessa told Compass that he had signed the document under duress, fearing attacks on his wife and daughters.

Ambessa had planned to rent a separate building for church services in another location, at a cost of 8 million rupiah per year (US$862). After Sunday’s attack, however, Ambessa said he felt disheartened and saw little point in reporting the incident to the local police station since he did not expect positive intervention.  

Report from Compass Direct News


Neighbors threaten his family, demand destruction of house used for church services.

JAKARTA, July 24 (Compass Direct News) – Officials in Cipayung district, East Jakarta, have ordered Pastor Chris Ambessa of the Protestant Church of Indonesia to dismantle the newly constructed second floor of his home and to cease all religious activity in the area.

Ambessa’s lawyer, August Pasaribu, told Compass on Monday (July 21) that he planned to submit a letter to the Cipayung civil engineering department asking it to cancel the July 3 order to dismantle the second floor of the home, since the demand was in breach of local regulations. Authorities’ order to cease area religious activity for an indefinite period followed on July 13.

Pasaribu said he also hoped to file a report with the East Jakarta police department regarding an incident on May 21, in which Ambessa’s neighbors forced him to sign a document agreeing to cease religious activity.

Ambessa, however, is still weighing the likely consequences of legal action for his family and congregation.

The pastor’s home in Pondok Rangon village has functioned as a legally recognized house church for the past 12 years.

On June 6, authorities sent a letter ordering him to cease work on the second-floor extension. Construction, however, had already been completed on May 17.

When church services continued, approximately 20 young men led by a local resident approached the Cipayung district offices on June 25, demanding that Ambessa’s house be demolished.

On May 21, a similar neighborhood group had threatened Ambessa and forced him to sign a document stating that he would cease holding church services in his home. Ambessa told Compass that he had signed the document under duress, fearing attacks on his wife and daughters.

Having established his small congregation in 1996 with the requisite permission from neighbors and civic authorities, Ambessa said he was determined to protect the right of his church members to worship freely.


A Positive Influence

The pastor began his ministry in the village in February 1995, working with young men in the village who were drinking at night and disturbing local residents.

By April 1996, the young men had given up drinking and were attending church services. The neighborhood Public Order official, a volunteer with a wide range of responsibilities from overseeing garbage collection to resolving community disputes, made a point of thanking Ambessa for his positive influence in the community.

In May 1996, local Public Order officials and the head of Cipayung district gave Ambessa permission to hold services in his rented home. Ambessa also sought and received permission from 70 neighbors to establish a house of worship, meeting the requirements of a 1969 Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) regulating places of worship.

After purchasing the house in 2002, Ambessa decided to extend the building to cater to his growing congregation.

Officials in Cipayung, however, had created a new regulation requiring churches to apply for a special religious building permit (Ijin Mendirikan Bangunan or IMB), considerably more expensive than an ordinary building permit. Realizing the prohibitive cost and the difficulty of obtaining such a permit, and on the grounds that the building was a residential home, Ambessa decided to proceed with the extension without applying for a religious IMB.

As one Compass source noted, enforcement of building regulations is notoriously inconsistent in Indonesia. Many private homes are built or extended without building permits, and mosques are often built or extended without a religious IMB – but the law is applied more stringently to churches.


Confusion Over New Regulation

Neighbors objected to the extension based on a revision of the 1969 SKB that came into effect on March 21, 2006, officially known as Perber 60/90. Issued by the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Religious Affairs, the decree spelled out conditions for the construction of new churches as opposed to existing churches.

Under the revised decree, new churches must be clearly identified as such, with a cross on the roof and a design “appropriate to a place of worship.” At least 60 immediate neighbors must approve the construction project, along with Public Order officials, the head of the village and district, and the “local community harmony forum” (Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama), consisting of a panel of residents from different faiths.

In addition, the church must have at least 90 adult members.

The decree applied only to new church construction projects and therefore not to Ambessa’s home-based congregation, in existence since 1996. Neighbors, however, were confused about the new regulation and demanded that it be applied to Ambessa’s church.

On July 13, a contingent of local officials – including a senior police officer, the head of Pondok Rangon village and the head of Cipayung district – arrived at Ambessa’s home and asked him to cease all religious activity for an indefinite period to alleviate rising tensions.

Ambessa complied on July 15, calling a halt to church services. He then obtained a lawyer, Pasaribu, to defend both his home and his congregation’s freedom to worship as outlined in Article 29(b) of Indonesia’s constitution, which says, “The state guarantees the freedom of every citizen to hold his/her own religion and to worship according to his/her religion or faith.”

Report from Compass Direct News