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Work on disputed church begins in Indonesia

Bogor mayor holds a groundbreaking ceremony for a Protestant group at the center of a 15-year freedom of worship row

Work on disputed church begins in Indonesia

Members of the GKI Pengadilan congregation hold a service outside the Presidential Palace in Jakarta in this 2018 file photo. (Photo: Konradus Epa/UCA News)

A groundbreaking ceremony has been held in Indonesia’s West Java province to kick off the construction of a new Protestant church which local officials hope will end a religious dispute that has dragged on for more than a decade.    

Bogor City mayor Bima Arya officiated at the ceremony for the Christian Church in Indonesia (GKI) Pengadilan, an affiliate of GKI Yasmin, on Dec. 5.

Arya believes the construction of the church will end a dispute that began in 2007 when local Muslims objected to the presence of the Protestants and pressured local authorities into closing the original church and revoking its permit.

The move provoked a legal dispute that reached the Supreme Court, which sided with the churchgoers and whose ruling to reopen the original church was ignored by local authorities.

In the meantime, congregation members have staged regular services outside the presidential palace in a bid to get President Joko Widodo to intervene in the dispute.   

To settle the dispute, Arya donated 1,668 square meters of land to GKI Pengadilan in March of this year and on Aug. 8 he issued a permit to build a new church about a kilometer from where the original stood. 

Bima Arya should follow the Supreme Court decision backed by the Ombudsman ordering them to allow the church to reopen

"I apologize to the GKI as the church should have been constructed several years ago,” he said at the groundbreaking event. 

However, some diehard church members said the Bogor mayor should reopen their original church.

“Bima Arya should follow the Supreme Court decision backed by the Ombudsman ordering them to allow the church to reopen,” GKI spokesman Bona Sigalingging told UCA News. 

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the relocation was a political solution that failed to adhere to legal decisions. 

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“This move is not a gesture of tolerance. Bima Arya should simply have followed the Supreme Court’s ruling as it is the highest legal institution in Indonesia,” he told UCA News.

He said the mayor’s move shows that intolerance from Muslim opponents of the church had in fact won the day, which is why many of the church followers are not happy with the mayor’s peace efforts.

Religious Affairs Minister Jaqut Cholil Quomas, however, praised the Bogor mayor’s move. "The groundbreaking shows that Indonesia is a harmonious and peaceful nation that respects human rights," he said.

President Widodo’s chief of staff, Muldoko, also backed the mayor. “It should end a conflict and shows commitment by local authorities to resolve it,” he said.

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