Major Islamic Crackdown on Churches in Indonesia Reported; Churches Closed, Pastors Threatened

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Wednesday, October 5, 2005
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

BANDUNG, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife)-- A Christian human rights group urged Indonesia's government Tuesday, October 4, to immediately halt the activities of known Islamic militants who it claims have closed dozens of churches, threaten pastors and other believers, and promote the abduction of Westerners "in cooperation" with local authorities.

US-based Christian Freedom International (CFI) said it has learned in Indonesia that the situation is "particularly" serious in the province of West Java where at least 35 churches in Bandung and neighboring regions "have been closed by Islamic mobs" during the past 12 months alone. In total about 200 churches were closed down since 1996, several sources said.

Most militants are allegedly linked to the Aliansi Gerakan Ant Pemurtadan (AGAP) or 'Anti-Apostasy Alliance Movement', according to a CFI report obtained by BosNewsLife. "In West Java AGAP operates with full cooperation from the local government," CFI added, citing several Christian sources in the region.

AGAP reportedly wants to close all "wild churches", a reference to Christian groups it deems not in compliance with Indonesian laws.

Under a Ministerial Decree jointly issued in 1969 by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs, churches are required to obtain a permit from both the local religious office and the head of the local neighborhood unit. There are no similar requirements for mosques, CFI said.


"AGAP is led by Muhammad Mu’min Al-Mubarak, a Muslim radical who advocates the abduction of Westerners," a CFI investigation discovered. "Mu’min, a former Christian who converted to Islam, has a passion to eradicate Indonesia of fast-growing Christianity," CFI said.

In the CFI 'Fact-Finding Report on Religious Persecution in West Java, Indonesia', Christian leaders recall how AGAP militants threatened to kill them if they did not stop their activities and close their churches.

One of them, 37-year old Father Iwan Rusbani Setyawan, was allegedly forced to sign a letter when AGAP members accompanied by at least one local official on August 27 raided his St. Anthony Chapel in Margahayu, a suburb of Bandung, West Java's capital and the third largest city of Indonesia.

Although two church members refused to sign, the priest apparently agreed because "they said they would kill us if we did not close."


He reportedly told CFI investigators the militants "came in with swords on their backs and backpacks full of stones to stone us. Their faces were covered with white and black handkerchiefs. The presence of them made me so scared... St. Anthony’s has over 300 members. Approximately 100 people were attending the mass during the raid. The women were crying; many were so scared. They feared for their lives."

St. Anthony Chapel had tried for years to obtain a permit from the local government, but no such permits have been approved for at least the past 25 years, CFI claimed. Another Christian of the Protestant GKP Jemeaat Church in Dayeuhkolot, a suburb of Bandung, was confronted with AGAP militants while cleaning the church building late August 21, CFI reported.

The believer, identified only as Jacob, 39, allegedly saw "more than 50" militants "wearing masks and carrying swords and backpacks of stones" who shouted: "Allah Akbar" or "God is Great."

"The AGAP came in around 10:00 PM [and left] at 3:00 am the next morning. They said this is the last time you can worship here. They said we must not worship here again," Jacob was quoted as saying. "The AGAP is trying to get the pastor to sign a letter to close the church, but the pastor is hiding in Bandung and will not sign," he added, according to CFI.


"AGAP has a mission to close churches and basically eradicate Christianity in Indonesia", Asia's largest Muslim nation, said CFI President Jim Jacobson, a former White House official. "They use fear, intimidation, threats, and obscure government regulations, in cooperation with local officials, to accomplish their goal." Neither the AGAP or West Java officials have reacted to the CFI fact-finding report.

News of the church closures come just days after CFI claimed that elsewhere in West Java three Indonesian Christian women who were jailed for inviting Muslim children to attend their church's Sunday School face abuse in prison.

Dr. Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun, who were sentenced to three years in prison in September in a case that gained international attention are forced to bribe guards to receive clean water in a "a dirty" overcrowded prison where they also face a lack of adequate food and sleep deprivation among other difficulties, CFI investigators said.


It was unclear whether the alleged abuses were linked to Islamic extremism. Indonesia's government has pledged to tackle Islamic violence following this weekend's Bali bombings in which at least 25 people died, and over 100 were injured. The blasts added to concern within Indonesia's Christian community and among Westerners.

Islamic attacks against Christians, undermine the image of Indonesia which as the world's largest Muslim nation, "has long enjoyed a reputation for religious tolerance and freedom," CFI said.

Christians comprise about 8 percent of Indonesia's roughly 240 million people, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (With BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife News Center and reports from Indonesia).

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