Indonesia: Service Cancelled in Otherwise Quiet Christmas

Thursday, January 11, 2007

JAKARTA (Compass Direct News) -- A 200-strong mob prevented a church here from holding a Christmas Eve service in what was an otherwise peaceful holiday season in Indonesia. Some Muslim groups even provided protection for churches alongside police and army personnel.

In Cengkareng Timur, the large mob prevented the Pentecostal Church in Indonesia from holding the Christmas Eve service.

The crowd gathered at the church premises on Christmas Eve, demanding that no Christmas services be held. Mob leader Kodri said the church was violating a West Jakarta regulation banning worship services in private homes.

The church began meeting in a private home in 1998. There were no problems until some neighbors objected in 2004. The Islamic Defenders Front and Betawi Discussion Forum then warned the church committee not to conduct worship services in the house, but members chose to ignore these warnings.

“All this time we’ve been able to hold services without difficulty,” Pastor Parlinggaman Simorangkir told local reporters. “So why could we not do it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?”

After a discussion between church members, neighbors, police and the district chief of Cengkareng, the Christmas Eve service was eventually called off and the church committee found another location for the service on Christmas Day.

One police officer apologized, saying the cancellation was unfortunate but that police “couldn’t do much other than protect the church from harm.”

Security Challenge

Indonesia has provided Christmas security for churches annually since a series of bombs were planted in or near churches across the country on Christmas Eve 2000. The bombs killed 19 people and injured well over 100.

Police and security officials blamed the Islamic terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) for the bombings. Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the spiritual leader of JI, was charged in 2003 in connection with the Christmas Eve bombings and with bombing attacks in Bali in October 2002 that killed over 200 people.

Courts found Ba’asyir guilty, but Indonesian authorities released him from prison in June 2006, and on December 21 of last year the Supreme Court overturned his conviction.

In the lead-up to Christmas Eve, more than 17,000 policemen and soldiers were deployed to protect churches, shopping malls and airport terminals in Jakarta.

Several Muslim organizations also took part in providing security. These included the Multifunction Front (Banser) and the Betawi Family Discussion Forum (Forkabi), among others.

Andi Mohammad Soleh, coordinator of one such group, said his people simply wanted to prevent violence during the Christmas season and prove that there was “inter-faith harmony in Jakarta.”

Several churches affected by bombings in previous years were able to conduct worship services safely, including the Santa Anna Catholic Church in Duren Sawit district, bombed in 2001, and the GPIB Koinonia church in Matraman, East Jakarta, which suffered a bombing in 2000.

2007 Begins Peacefully

Residents of Central Sulawesi breathed a sigh of relief as the new year opened without a repeat of last year’s violence.

At about 6:30 a.m. on New Year’s Eve 2005, a bomb exploded in a Christian marketplace in Palu, Central Sulawesi, killing eight and injuring 56.

The bombing followed a series of violent attacks on Christians in 2005, echoing previous conflict between Muslims and Christians in the region from 1998 to 2001 that claimed over 1,000 lives.

A peace accord was signed in December 2001, but sporadic attacks have continued ever since with Christians forming the overwhelming majority of victims.

Following the New Year’s Eve 2005 blast, the government announced plans to send an additional 1,100 policeman and an unspecified number of soldiers to Central Sulawesi.

Approximately 4,000 extra police and military personnel had already been sent to restore order to the troubled province in 2005. Security forces, however, failed to prevent repeated attacks or arrest perpetrators of the ongoing violence.

In one positive development, police in 2006 finally arrested and brought to trial three men accused of murdering three Christian teenagers in Central Sulawesi in October 2005. At least one of the men has admitted to his role in the murders.

Police have yet to identify those responsible for the 2005 New Year’s Eve bombing.

Copyright © 2007 Compass Direct