Indonesia: Islamists try to Destroy Church Buildings

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Violating 2005 agreement, authorities lead Muslim mob to demolish facilities.

JAKARTA (Compass Direct News) -- Local authorities accompanied by an Islamist mob attempted to demolish two buildings in a church compound used by three congregations in Jatimulya village, West Java province on June 14.

The initial dismantling of a roof, doors and fence came to a halt after a Public Order officer from Bekasi Regency fell from the roof of one of the buildings. Authorities had sealed the buildings shut since 2005.

Since then, members of the three churches – Protestant Batak Christian Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestant, or HKBP), Indonesian Evangelical Prophet Church (Gereja Kerasulan Injili Indonesia, or GEKINDO) and Elshadday Pentecostal Church in Indonesia (Gereja Pentakosta di Indonesia, or GPdI) – have been meeting in homes.

The churches have maintained ownership of the buildings, located in North Tambun district east of Jakarta, in hopes of being able to resume worship there some day. For nearly three years the buildings had been subject to vandalism and theft, prompting the Rev. Pestaria Hutajulu of GEKINDO to file a complaint on June 12 with Jakarta police against the village and district heads. She held them responsible since they ordered the buildings to be sealed.

Church leaders had obtained permission from local authorities to use the buildings but lacked a worship permit from district officials when objections from Muslims erupted in September 2005. The previous year, Christian sources said, Muslims had built an Islamic school on a lot directly in front of the church compound, restricting access to a narrow two-meter passageway.

Banned from the buildings, tensions grew as church members began to worship on the street. Muslims assaulted a pastor on October 30, 2005, and this led to an agreement under which the congregations would cease worshipping in the street, officials would help the Christians find a place to build a worship facility and the buildings would not be torn down.

Authorities have done nothing to help locate an alternative worship place, Christian sources said, and on June 10 officials informed church leaders and their lawyers that the buildings would be destroyed on June 14.

When the pastors and their lawyers arrived to meet with the Jatimulya head on June 10, sources said, the village leader simply handed them a letter from a North Tambun district official ordering them to remove equipment from the buildings, as they were scheduled to be demolished on June 14.

The pastors pointed out that demolition would be in violation of the 2005 agreement, but authorities told them the agreement was no longer in force. According to Christian support organization Open Doors, on June 8 local residents had seen Rev. Hutajulu and other Christians praying in one of the buildings – which they had entered and begun praying over after finding vandals had removed some doors and windows and stolen a podium, pews and electrical fans, among other equipment.

Suspecting the Christians would reopen the church, the local residents had reported what they had seen to officials. At the meeting with authorities two days later, local authorities refused to listen to Rev. Hutajulu’s explanation for why they had entered the building.

As the meeting broke up, sources said, Rev. Hutajulu asked the village head if the church could use the village hall for worship. He replied, “Sure, as long as it’s for a mass circumcision.”

Awaiting Police Action

The day of the planned demolition, Rev. Hutajulu released a statement saying, “Jesus taught us to obey the government. However, ‘Whoever destroys the temple of God will be destroyed by the Lord.’”

Part of damaged church

Dozens of Islamic officials and residents were attempting to break in before demolition work stopped when the Public Order official fell from the roof into one of the buildings.

The churches had purchased the buildings, Rev. Hutajulu said, from a developer who used to worship in one of the congregations, whose combined memberships now total more than 500. She said the Christians had obtained permission from local residents to worship there.

The Rev. Erwin Marbun of HKBP said the Christians had socialized with local authorities as well as Muslim leaders.

“They seemed to welcome us,” Rev. Marbun said. “But now, why are they damaging the churches?”

On June 12 Rev. Marbun sought help from the National Commission on Human Rights, but to no avail. Several other appeals also failed.

Following the attempted demolition, church leaders met with advocacy group Religious Freedom Defenders Team, which has filed a case with police in Jakarta. Police have promised to respond within two weeks, Rev. Marbun said.

“We need justice – we are citizens too,” said Rev. Marbun.

Rev. Hutajulu said Christians have been meeting in the area since 1989 and seeking worship permits since 1991.

“We hope the law is still strong to stand up and give us justice,” she said.

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