Indonesia: Christian Lecturer Attacked in West Java

Sunday, November 19, 2006

November 16 (Compass Direct News) -- Muslim extremists in West Java attempted to murder a Christian lecturer in mid-October for converting from Islam three years ago.

The lecturer at various theological schools, whose name was withheld for security reasons, has taken shelter in another province to escape further threats to his life.

Sources told Compass that in September a man claiming to be a Christian phoned the lecturer saying he wanted to study Islam in order to relate to his Muslim acquaintances. Several meetings followed in early October between the lecturer, the caller and several of the caller’s friends.

On October 17, members of this group – whose names also were withheld – asked the lecturer to bring a selection of Christian books and cassettes and travel with them to Lembang, a small community on the outskirts of Bandung, a large town in West Java. The group asked the lecturer to take the front passenger seat in a small red van.

En route, the men in the back seat slipped a rope over the lecturer’s neck and attempted to strangle him. When he struggled, they hit him several times over the head with a hammer.

Streaming with blood, the lecturer managed to jump out of the car and roll downhill. Five minutes later, he reached a main road and began to ask passersby for help, without success. He eventually had to walk to the nearest police station, where he was referred first to a health clinic and then to a local hospital for treatment.

Police later discovered that the van driven by the extremists had crashed into another vehicle. Officers were able to arrest one of the men responsible for the attack, but the others escaped before police arrived.

The group took a mobile phone and 800,000 rupiah (US$87) from the lecturer, but police believe this was an attempt to portray the intended death as the result of a violent robbery.

Investigations are continuing.

Churches Struggling

At the same time, churches are struggling with a decree regulating houses of worship issued in March. The decree replaced a Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) issued in 1969.

Local Christians say the new provisions make it virtually impossible to obtain a church permit.

Under the revised SKB, congregations must meet several basic conditions before they can build or establish a church: proof of at least 90 existing members; the approval of 60 neighbors of different faith backgrounds; approval from civic authorities; and approval from newly established interfaith community forums (the Communication Forums for Religious Harmony).

Building permits are also required for the construction of new churches.

The difficulties are illustrated by the case of a Seventh Day Adventist Messiah Church (GMAHK) in Bandung regency, West Java. The church, established in 1976, owns land and a building in Cisarua sub-district but has no building permit.

In November 2005, a mob entered the building while a service was underway and protested the presence of a church in the community. As a result, the church was forced to cease meeting, and the building was officially sealed. Members met in private homes for two weeks after the closure – but when the tension eased, they resumed services in the main building.

In April, a meeting was called between GMAHK leaders, Muslim clerics and civic officials, who gave the church three months to obtain a legal permit for a house of worship.

At a second meeting held on September 18, civil officials accused the church of using private homes for their worship activities and failing to obtain a permit.

Church leaders said they had met in private homes for two weeks only after the church closure last November. They also said it was impossible to complete the application process because the Bandung regency interfaith community forum had not yet been formed, and the non-existent body could not approve their application.

These arguments failed to persuade Islamic leaders, who insisted that the regional government permanently seal GMAHK’s unregistered building before Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, began on September 24.

Representatives from the Islamic Clerics Forum of Indonesia – a forum endorsed by 18 Islamic organizations – then staged a walkout.

The meeting ended with no clear consensus, although local government officials asked the church to relocate as soon as possible.

With no clear alternatives, church members purchased a new plot of land about five kilometers (three miles) away from their existing building. Local authorities gave tacit approval, but Muslim groups objected on the grounds that there was a mosque in the neighborhood, saying church activities would disturb the Muslim community.

Muslim leaders then demanded that the church build their new facility in a nearby Seventh Day Adventist housing community. The managers, however, refused to provide space, claiming there was already a church in the community.

This situation clearly demonstrates the ongoing difficulties experienced by churches and other religious groups throughout West Java in obtaining permits for legitimate places of worship.

Copyright © 2006 Compass Direct