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Indonesian Christians wary of Easter protests

Rows over building permits threatens to cast dark shadow over Holy Week for several parishes, congregations

Indonesian Christians wary of Easter protests

Catholics attend a service under a tent in St. John the Baptist Parish in Parung, West Java. (Photo by Tyas Utomo)

Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta
Indonesia

April 7, 2017

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Christians in Indonesia will celebrate Holy Week despite the threat of protests from hard-line Muslim groups over church building permits.

Parishioners and congregations have had to endure harassment and protests at several churches in recent weeks by Muslims demanding their places of worship be closed down despite them holding legal permits in another example of religious intolerance in the Muslim majority, yet secular country.

Last week, violence flared when hundreds of Muslims staged a protest against the construction of a Catholic church in St. Clara Parish in North Bekasi, West Java. Police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters who tried to force their way into the church.

"Such protests challenge our efforts to maintain diversity," Rasnius Pasaribu, secretary of the parish's pastoral council, told ucanews.com.

"No matter what. We will celebrate Holy Week in a shophouse where we have been holding Sunday services," he said.

The parish, established in 1996, has about 9,400 parishioners who held Sunday services in the shophouse.

In 2015, it obtained a building permit from local authorities to build a church after all requirements stipulated in Indonesian law.

The law states church officials must provide a list of names and signatures of 90 worshippers and written support from at least 60 local residents along with the approval by a village head.

Construction began in November last year but it has faced intimidation from Muslim hardliners since then.

"We will work with police and local people to guard the celebrations," Pasaribu said.

The Methodist Church Indonesia in Parung Panjang have experienced problems, however local authorities bowed to pressure by the extremists and authorities banned the congregation from holding religious activities inside a housing complex where it regularly met, a church officials said.

"We have no other place. We will hold the celebrations in the house even though there might be protests," Reverend Abdi Saragih said.

"It is not easy being a Christian. Carrying a cross is our task."

The church with 116 members has been registered with the Religious Affairs Ministry since 2001. It is still waiting for its application to build a church to be granted.

Tyas Utomo, deputy chairman of the parish council at St. John the Baptist Parish in Parung, said celebrations there will be in a tent "as this is the only facility we have."

The parish with more than 3,000 Catholics has endured frequent intimidation from radical Muslims since its establishment in 2000.

Local authorities have not yet issued a permit even though the parish submitted applications in 2009 and 2011.

"We cannot guarantee that Easter celebrations will be safe as there is potential threat," Utomo said.

According to Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, religious freedom violations are still rampant in Indonesia, including the banning of religious activities.

In its latest report, the group recorded 208 violations in 2016, up from 196 in 2015 and 134 in 2014.

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