Indonesia: 110 Churches Closed in Three Years

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Islamic extremist groups and local governments obstruct Christian worship.

JAKARTA (Compass Direct News) -- Islamic extremist groups and local governments in Indonesia closed 110 churches from 2004 to 2007, according to religious and human rights organizations.

The Wahid Institute, a moderate Muslim non-governmental organization, along with the Communion of Churches of Indonesia (Persekutuan Gereja-Gereja di Indonesia), the Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia (Konferensi Waligereja Indonesia) and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission reported that discrimination and violence against churches was most common in the provinces of West Java, Banten, Central Java, South Sulawesi and Bengkulu.

Radical Muslim groups attacking churches included the Islamic Defender Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI), the Indonesian Mujahidin Council, Hizbullah Front, Muslim Clergy Members Forum (Forum Ulama Umat Islam) and the Muslim Safety Forum (Dewan Keamanan Masjid).

Some of these groups coerced local governments to send letters to churches prohibiting any activities. When churches did not comply, they would be burned or otherwise damaged, as happened last December to Jakarta Baptist Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Baptis Jakarta, or GKBJ) in Sepatan, Tangerang province. Muslim extremists from the FPI kicked out the windows and doors of the home of pastor Bedali Hulu and threw out his belongings.

Local officials subsequently asked the pastor to leave the area until tensions cooled, and activities at the church came to halt even though it originally had a permit and was registered with Religious Affairs authorities.

Church activities began in June 2005, but objections didn’t arise until January 4, 2007, when some area residents asked that the church shut down because it was meeting in a home. The congregation had its permit from Religious Affairs authorities in Banten province but not one to worship in the house.

Rev. Hulu’s church remains prohibited from re-opening. Some churches re-open by moving the service from one house to another far from their original site. Others have simply stopped meeting.

A Joint Ministerial Decree issued in 1969 and revised in 2006 requires an official permit for any place of worship – whether Muslim, Christian or otherwise – operating throughout Indonesia.

Under the revised decree, any group applying for a permit must have 90 adult members with identification cards, and ID numbers must be provided with the application. This requirement – along with the decree’s stipulation that at least 60 neighbors must give their written consent before an application is made – renders many small Christian churches easy targets for Islamic radicals and hostile local governments.

Ifdhal Kasim, head of Indonesian Human Rights Commission has asked the Indonesian president to take concrete steps to resolve the conflicts.

“Anarchist actions such as closing and damaging churches, including hitting preachers and members of congregations, are all violation of human rights,” Kasim said. “The Indonesian president should issue a statement to prohibit anarchistic actions such as closing houses of worship.”

In February, Christians belonging to some of the closed churches asked the human rights commission to urge the government to resolve cases throughout Indonesia as soon as possible.

Under the administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who took power in October 2004, there have been 87 cases of closed or destroyed churches. That compares with 92 such cases during the rule of predecessor Megawati Sukarnoputri (2001-2004), 232 cases under Abdurrahman Wahid (1999-2001), 156 cases under Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie (1998-1999), and 456 under Suharto (1967-1998). In the era of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno (1945-1967), only two cases of church destruction or closures are recorded.

Officially, the total number of churches closed or destroyed in Indonesia is thus 1,025.

Muslims make up 88.2 percent of Indonesia’s population of about 240 million people, with Protestant Christians making up 5.9 percent, Catholics 3.1 percent, Hindus 0.8 percent, Buddhists 0.2 percent, and other religions 0.2 percent.

Copyright © 2008 Compass Direct News