Indonesia: Islamic Groups Secure Closure of Two Churches

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Baptist, Catholic congregations shut down after Muslim extremists attack, protest.

JAKARTA, December 3 (Compass Direct News) -- Attacking the house of a Baptist pastor and protesting the presence of a Catholic temple, radical Muslim groups got authorities to close down two churches in the past two weeks.

In Banten province, extremists from the Islamic Defender Forces (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI) on November 21 attacked the Tangerang home of the Rev. Bedali Hulu, pastor at Jakarta Christian Baptist Church (GKBJ), kicking out doors and windows, breaking glass and throwing the pastor’s belongings from the house. The church had been meeting in the pastor’s home.

At the time of the attack, only the pastor’s mother-in-law and a member of the church, Temaziduhu Laoli, were in the house, located at Perumahan Permata Sepatan, Desa Pisangan Jaya in Tangerang. Habib Muhammad Assegaf led the attack.

As a result of the attack and objections to the church, Rev. Hulu met with Pisangan Jaya village leaders on November 22 – with the result that officials asked him to leave the territory until tensions cooled. Activities at the church, which has a permit and is registered with Religious Affairs authorities, came to a halt.

“It’s okay for a while, but I’ll be back,” said Rev. Hulu. His wife and his mother-in-law were allowed to remain in their house.

The pastor previously had met with Pisangan Jaya village authorities on Nov. 8, sources said, after about 10 Muslim extremists on November 4 arrived at a Sunday school class at the house church, ordering shocked children to stop meeting. That night, they said, protestors returned and forced those present to halt their worship.

Before the November 21 attack, sources said, Muslim extremists from the FPI on November 19 hand-delivered a letter to Rev. Hulu at his home demanding that the church close down.

At the November 22 meeting with the pastor were GKBJ leaders and Hanie Lawrence, chairman of Damai Sejahtera Party (PDS) of Banten territory, along with Pisangan Jaya Village leaders under the district military post command.

The PDS’s Lawrence told Compass that the Muslim extremists of the FPI were mistaken by claiming all area residents supported the closing of the church. He said one of the Muslim group’s demands was that the church pay a fee.

The church activities began in June 2005, and objections didn’t arise until January 4, 2007, when area residents asked that the church shut down because it was meeting in a home.

Loud Demands

In West Jakarta, about 75 Muslim demonstrators on November 23 demanded a halt to the ministries of Damai Kristus (Christ’s Peace), a Catholic church in Kampung Duri.

Marching against the church ostensibly because it didn’t have the proper permit for expansion – local authorities had denied the parish priest’s application without explanation – the irate demonstrators walked from Al Maulana mosque to the church yelling “Allahu Akbar [God is Great].”

About 15 protesters, including members of the FPI, undertook tense discussions with the church board at the parish house, along with some local government members. Under the banners of The South Duri Region Mosque-Musholla and the Majlis Ta’lim Cooperation Forum, they submitted several demands that in essence would require the church to stop all of its activities – permanently.

Sources said the protestors threatened violence if church leaders refused to comply with their demands and tried to force clergymen to remove all religious symbols.

The church leaders refused their demand to cease activities, saying such requests could only be made by an official letter from West Jakarta officials. The protestors left the church, returning shortly thereafter with a letter from the Tambora district head requiring the church to halt its ministries.

Previously, beginning November 19, local officials and police had asked church leaders to explain new construction on the church premises, pointing out that the parish priest did not have a permit to build a place of worship. Clergymen Anton Corebima and Frans Susanto explained that the new construction was for living quarters, not a church.

The parish priest had applied for the building permit and was immediately refused without explanation, according to Asia News.

The property had been zoned as a residential area, with the Mother of Sacred Heart Foundation originally using it for a multi-function room of a Catholic school, the agency reported. Gradually it grew into a small church, and area zoning was changed from residential to social function in 1998.

The church, which is registered with religious authorities, reportedly has some 4,000 parishioners.

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