Indonesian church could be forced to move

Relocation the latest stumbling block faced by congregation
Indonesian church could be forced to move

Members of the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church worship near the presidential palace in Jakarta, part of a regular protest highlighting authorities' refusal to issue a building permit for their church. (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

An embattled Protestant congregation in Indonesia could be forced to move the site of a planned church because of pressure from Muslim hard-liners.

Bona Sigalingging, spokesman for the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church, said that city authorities in Bogor, near the Indonesian capital Jakarta, have unilaterally decided to move the site of a planned church about seven kilometers from its original location.

"We believe it is due to the inability to face pressure from intolerant groups," he said.

The relocation plan, he said, could set a troubling precedent for other Christian congregations that have faced roadblocks when trying to build churches in Muslim-majority communities.

"We believe that if we accept it, then the government in other areas will also follow what has been done by the Bogor government," Sigalingging said.

The Yasmin congregation learned of the plan from sources within the Bogor government, though it has not been publicly confirmed by city officials. Bima Arya, the city’s mayor, did not respond to requests for comment.

But the move would be the latest in a line of hardships for the Yasmin church. Worshipers have been forced to hold prayer services at home since 2010, when the city’s previous mayor, Diani Budiarto, revoked the church’s building permit and ordered the building sealed.

Although the congregation took the case to the country’s Supreme Court, which ordered that the church be reopened, local authorities have refused.

Faced with pressure from hard-line Muslims, authorities in many Indonesian jurisdictions have used onerous regulations on places of worship as a basis for shutting down churches. In 2006, the government introduced legislation that forced congregations to seek signed support from at least 60 residents and the approval of local authorities before building permits would be issued.

Christian congregations that failed to meet this demand have been denied building permits, while others that already built churches have seen them declared illegal and torn down.

Bogor’s mayor, Bima Arya, who some observers see as being relatively progressive on issues of religious diversity, promised to resolve the Yasmin church dispute when he took office.

However, moving the site of the congregation’s planned new church, without its consent, is a troubling sign, rights groups say.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the mayor appears to be following the will of Muslim hard-liners opposed to the church.

"Bima Arya shows a model of a leader who is not assertive," he said. "This would be bad news for the enforcement of religious freedom in Indonesia."

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