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Indonesia

In Indonesia, Muslim group protests church construction

Restrictive laws make it difficult for congregations to build places of worship

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In Indonesia, Muslim group protests church construction

Protesters gather outside the mayor's office in North Bekasi, Indonesia, Aug. 10. More than a thousand people gathered to urge local authorities to revoke a church's building permit. (Photo supplied)

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More than a thousand Muslim demonstrators staged a rally in an Indonesian city Aug. 10, urging local authorities to revoke a building permit for a Catholic church.

The protesters in a strongly Muslim area of North Bekasi, near Jakarta, claimed the leaders of the St. Clara Parish Church obtained a building permit through improper means.

“We want the mayor to revoke the building permit … as it is invalid,” said protester Ustadz Ismail Ibrahim, a Muslim leader with the Islamic Friendship Association of Bekasi. The group includes several Islamic organizations and boarding houses in the area.

Local authorities granted the church a building permit in July. However, churches across Indonesia have struggled with highly restrictive legislation that critics say makes it difficult to obtain the proper permits.

In 2006, the religious affairs and home affairs ministries issued legislation that laid out onerous requirements to build places of worship. Church officials, for example, are obligated to provide a list of names and signatures of 90 worshippers and get signed support from at least 60 local residents along with approval by a village head.

Ibrahim claims the parish church violated these rules.

“They manipulated the data and forced local residents to sign on a paper with no letterhead,” he said. “It was proved when we asked the local residents and found out that they weren’t aware of it.”

However, Rasnius Pasaribu, a secretary at the parish church, maintained that the church had met all necessary requirements.

“We have gone through all procedures. All administrative processes are done. But they urged [local authorities] to revoke the building permit,” he told ucanews.com.

According to Pasaribu, protesters said the area is “Kota Santri”, or a city of pious Muslims, and there should therefore be no churches in the area.

Both Ibrahim and Pasaribu say local authorities will look into the matter and that, for now, church officials have been told not to start construction until the issue has been resolved.

The parish church, which was established in 1996, has about 9,400 people in its congregation. Church officials bought a 6,500-meter-square parcel of land in 2000, but have been unable to begin construction. In the ensuing years, Catholics in the parish have conducted Sunday services in a nearby shophouse.

The church is far from alone in having trouble obtaining proper permits, even just in Bekasi. Authorities have shut down Protestant and Catholic churches in the area and refused or revoked permits for new construction. Earlier this year, New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the Indonesian government for failing to protect religious minorities, including Christians.

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