Construction of Two Churches Stopped in Indonesia

Government unduly seals shut one church building, Islamic mob forces halt to another.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 25 (CDN) — An Islamic mob stopped construction of Santa Maria Immaculata Catholic Church in Citra Garden, West Jakarta earlier this month even as government officials in Yasmin Park, Bogor, West Java halted work on an Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) building.

On March 12, the same day GKI faced closure from government officials, protestors led by the United Islam Forum (FUIB) blockaded the entrance to Citra Garden, demanding that construction of the Catholic church building there cease. They based their demand on the claim that it did not have the approval of the local citizens, but the church had official permission and therefore has been under construction for several weeks.

The building permit was posted in plain view, but the Islamic protestors said they felt that not all citizens had agreed to allow the building.

The Rev. Peter Kurniawan Subagyo of Santa Maria Immaculata said the church belonged to the parochial district of Cengkareng, but that the district became so large (20,000 people) that a separate parish needed to be established. The church had found an 8,000-square- meter lot in Citra Garden.

The building permit was processed normally, and all necessary citizen signatures were secured, he said. The Jakarta provincial government approved the permit, which was formally published in state-owned media on Jan. 18.

Shortly after approval of the building permit, the church building committee went to work. Construction had been under way for only a few weeks before Islamic crowds began demonstrating in the name of the local citizens.

Church leader Albertus Suriata said the congregation never has had problems with local people.

“We have had good relations,” Suriata told Compass. “I don’t think that anyone near the church had objections. We suspect outsiders.”

He said that the church had attempted to resolve the problems posed by the protestors through a number of informal channels.

“We had just begun to build,” he said. “Do we have to stop just because of demonstrations? Besides, we have official permission from the government.”

SealedIn West Java, Bogor city police on March 12 sealed the construction site of the Yasmin Park Indonesian Christian Church. Previously the Bogor city government had revoked the church building permit, claiming that the congregation created “uneasiness” among local people.

Sources said the permit revocation and closure were the direct result of pressure from organizations such as the Muslim Communication Forum of Indonesia (FORKAMI), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, and the Muslim Lawyers’ Team (TPM), which had repeatedly called for a halt to church construction.

Chief Abdul Rahman of the Bogor police said he sealed the building site on instructions from Area Secretary Bambang Gunawan.

“We followed the instructions of the Bogor Area Secretary and sealed the church,” Rahman told Compass.

The Bogor city government’s claim that the church caused “uneasiness” among the local people is false, said a source who requested anonymity. The source said the Bogor city government came under pressure from several Muslim organizations to revoke the building permit, and that in fact Yasmin Park residents had no objection to a church in their midst.

“Relations between the church and the residents were always good,” the source said.

Ayu Augustina, leader of Muslim Communication Forum of Indonesia in Bogor, was resolute in his opposition.

“We intend to continue meeting – we will pursue this matter to the end,” he told Compass. “The church must be sealed.”

GKI spokesperson Ujang Sujai said that the church is working to arrange a meeting between the Area Secretary Gunawan and Yasmin Park residents said to be opposed to the building.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Seminary Students in Indonesia Evicted from Two Locations

Forced departure from campground and office building leads to demonstration, arrests, injuries.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 30 (CDN) — In the past week hundreds of students from Arastamar Evangelical Theological Seminary (SETIA) were evicted from two sites where they had taken refuge after Muslim protestors drove them from their campus last year. 

With about 700 students earlier evicted from Bumi Perkemahan Cibubur (BUPERTA) campground, officers appointed by the West Jakarta District Court on Monday (Oct. 26) began evacuating more than 300 students from the former municipal building of West Jakarta.

In response, the more than 1,000 evicted SETIA students demonstrated in West Jakarta on Tuesday (Oct. 27), clogging traffic and leading to altercations with police that led to the arrest of at least five students. Six officers were injured.

The eviction from the former West Jakarta mayoral building came after the city settled accounts last week with the Sawerigading Foundation, which officially gained ownership of the site from the city after a long court dispute. The foundation plans to build apartments on the land, a 13,765 square-meter parcel with six buildings.

Demonstrating in front of the buildings, the students formed a blockade. A bulldozer began to level buildings, and students began throwing plastic chairs and rocks at police. Officers responded with tear gas that dispersed the crowd.

“Five people were arrested and taken for questioning by the West Jakarta Police,” Police Commissioner Djoni Iskandar told Compass at the site. The identities of the five students were not known at press time, although the head of the student senate, Alexander Dimu, said that one was identified as Adi Siwa.

Traffic Police Chief Commissioner Sungkono, who goes by a single name, told Compass that two traffic officers and four security policeman were injured by objects the students had thrown.

“Brigade Chief Charles and Sudiyanto had just gotten out of a car when they were hit by flying objects,” he said. “The same was true of four other police: Diak, Arif, Luki, and Mardiana, who had injuries to their hands, feet, and a torn lip.”

Inadequate Alternatives

The students were originally driven from their school when hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [“God is greater]” and brandishing machetes forced the evacuation of staff and students from the SETIA campus in Kampung Pulo village on July 26-27, 2008.

Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor” following a misunderstanding between students and local residents, the protestors also had sharpened bamboo and acid and injured at least 20 students, some seriously.

The Jakarta provincial government has offered to house students at a city-owned office building in North Jakarta that SETIA officials said was unfit for habitation.

“A barn for water buffalo is much nicer than that place,” Ronald Simanjuntak secretary of the SETIA Foundation, told Compass.

The building has broken windows, non-functioning toilets, a roof that is in disrepair, and a bare cement floor, he said, adding that major renovations would be necessary.

“Our primary request is that we be allowed to return to our own campus peacefully,” Simanjuntak said. “We were in the old West Jakarta mayor’s office because the provincial government sent us there. Don’t imagine that we were trying to take over that place.”

An inspection of the North Jakarta building by representatives from the SETIA Foundation, the Sawerigading Foundation, and city officials found the building was uninhabitable and unsuitable for classes, said SETIA’s rector, the Rev. Matheus Mangentang.

“So the solution is to return us to our campus,” Rev. Mangentang told Compass. “[The North Jakarta building] needs months of renovation work; it was supposed to be torn down.”

The area secretary for the Jakarta Provincial Government who goes by a single name, Muhayat, told Compass that suitability “is a relative thing.”

“Why is the place unsuitable?” he said. “Is it the location?”

According to Muhayat, the Jakarta government plans to sell a property that would allow it to provide proceeds for construction of a new SETIA campus in the Lippo area of Cikarang, West Java Province. Officials hope a sale could be completed late this year, allowing construction to begin in early 2010.

“The students need to be patient and not act unilaterally,” Muhayat said. “The provincial government and the [SETIA] Foundation are in the midst of working on a new campus.”

The students would like to return to their former campus in Kampung Pulo, East Jakarta, with assurances of safety and security from the vice-governor, but area residents reportedly remain hostile.

SETIA’s Simanjuntak said that if students are forced to the North Jakarta building, school officials would ask the Sawerigading Foundation for time to renovate it. Sawerigading has offered 250 million rupiahs (US$26,000) to SETIA for renovations.

Of the total SETIA students, another 297 are still living at the Transit Lodge in Kalimalang, East Jakarta.

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