Indonesian Christians cry foul after church permit pulled

Protestant group says building permit legal, accuses local authorities of caving in to pressure from Muslims
Indonesian Christians cry foul after church permit pulled

Protests from Muslim hardliners are being blamed on moves by local authorities to deny Christians from building churches. (Photo by Ryan Dagur/ucanews.com)

Local authorities in Indonesia’s Yogyakarta’s Special Region have revoked a newly issued permit to a Christian church following protests and threats from radical Muslim groups.

Activists called the revocation yet another example of persecution that minorities have to face in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

Bantul district chief, Suharsono, cancelled the permit belonging to the Pentecostal Church in Indonesia via an official letter on July 26.

In a statement on July 31, the district chief, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name, claimed the permit issued on Jan. 15 did not meet the requirements set in a 2006 joint ministerial decree on the building of houses of worship.

Suharsono insisted the church did not meet the provisions.

He said his team learned that the so-called church was actually a house occasionally used for prayers, and not a church.

“A house of worship cannot be a home at the same time,” he said.

However, media reports said that a few days before he canceled the permit, hard-line Muslim groups vowed to campaign against the church’s presence in the neighborhood.

Rev. Tigor Yunus Sitorus, the church pastor told ucanews.com that he has since asked congregation members to attend services in other churches in order to avoid conflict.

"The problem now rests with the church," he said, adding that for now the church authorities did not want to issue any statement that could worsen the atmosphere.

Rev. Palti Panjaitan, chairman of the human rights group Solidarity of Victims of Violations of Freedom of Religion and Beliefs, said this case clearly shows "the state is defenseless against pressure by intolerant groups.”

Halili from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace said the reasons behind the revocation do not make sense as making sure necessary requirements are met is a lengthy process.

“The district chief should not have bowed to pressure from radical groups,” Halili said.

"All he had to do was refer to the constitution where religious freedom is guaranteed,” he added.

Minority groups in Indonesia say they often face obstacles to establishing places of worship, as a result of the 2006 decree.

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Among other things it requires church officials to provide a list of names and signatures of 90 worshippers and get signed support from at least 60 local residents and approval by a village head before a permit to build a house of worship is issued.

These are unfair stipulations that hard-line groups exploit to prevent minorities worshipping, they say. 

Last month, another Christian denomination, the Family of God Church in West Jakarta, met with opposition from Muslims who claimed its church was too close to a Muslim community, a mosque, cleric homes and a Muslim boarding school.

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