ICC Note: The closure of churches across Indonesia spiked in December as radical Islamic groups used the Christmas holidays to target Christian congregations. For several years radical organizations have held protests and pressured local government officials into shutting down Christian places of worship, using the pretext of lacking the proper building permits. These permits are often impossible for Christian churches to obtain, and even sucesfully obtaining a legal permit is not a guarantee that the church will be allowed to operate. At least two churches in Indonesia, including the GKI Yasmin and the HKBP Filadelfia not only obtained proper permits, but took their cases to Indonesia’s Supreme Court and won when the validity of their permits was challenged. Nevertheless local authorities refuse to reopen either church.
1/13/2014 Indonesia (AsiaNews) – From December 16 last until today at least five Christian churches in the province of Jambi, Sumatra ( in the western part of the Indonesian archipelago), have been forced to halt construction work due to a blockade imposed by local authorities, under pressure from the Islamic extremist fringe . The latest case – after the four that occurred in December 2013 – dates back to a few days ago in the district of Bungo . As often happens, the order to stop the project issued by the local administration has been motivated by the lack of the infamous IMB , the building permit necessary for the construction of a building , whether religious or civil.
The process for building a church in Indonesia – Catholic or Protestant – is quite complicated and may take five to ten years to obtain all permits required by law. The procedure is governed by the Izin Mendirikan Bangunan (IMB), a species of written protocol that allows for construction to commence and is issued by local authorities. The story gets more complicated if it is a place of Christian worship: permission must be obtained from a number of residents in the area where the building is to be constructed and the local Group for Interfaith Dialogue. And even if the permission is granted “unspecified reasons” can come into play that will lead officials to block the projects. Often, this occurs after pressure from the Muslim community or radical Islamic movements.
Firdaus , chief of Pasir Putih village, confirms that the recent closure of the site for the construction of a Protestant church in the area is “administrative” and due to the lack of a building permit. He adds that he had sent several notifications and letters warnings to community leaders of irregularities in procedures. The decision to block the church construction in the district of Bungo is “in line with the law,” he warns, and “is not based on discriminatory or sectarian issues”.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has seen a rise in the number of attacks or acts of intolerance against minorities, including Christians, Ahmadi Muslims and others. In the province of Aceh – the only in the Archipelago to apply Islamic law ( Sharia ) – following a peace agreement between the central government and the Free Aceh Movement ( GAM ) , the application of a radical form of Islam among citizens is becoming more extreme. In addition, certain rules such as the building permit – the infamous IMB – are exploited to prevent the building or close down places of worship, as was the case in West Java against Yasmin Church. The constitution provides for freedom of religion, but the community is the victim of incidents of violence and abuse. Local sources report that in December alone , at least five Christian places of worship have had to close their doors due to pressure from Islamists.