Ahead of Easter, Christians in Indonesia's West Java province are left in the lurch after their church, functioning from a building without a permit, was sealed off by the administration.
The Purwakarta district administration shut down the building of the Simalungun Protestant Christian Church on April 1.
Anne Ratna Mustika, the district head, stated in a video that she sealed the church as it did not have a permit as stipulated under the joint ministerial regulation on the construction of houses of worship.
She suggested the congregation use another church until the permit is finalized.
Mustika stated that the building was shut down following an agreement between the Ministry of Religion, the Indonesian Ulema Council, Regional Leadership Coordination Forum, and the Forum for Religious Harmony.
The 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree requires a minimum of 90 members and the support of 60 non-Christians to build a place of worship. The regulation has become a tough challenge for minority groups.
Krisdian Saragih, head of the Simalungun Protestant Christian Church, said the church was visited by representatives from hardline groups twice on March 19 and 26. "They asked us to stop praying, which sparked an argument," he recalled.
Saragih said the congregation built the church in 2021 and started using it in November last year. "We are now anxious because we have nowhere else to worship during Easter," he added.
He admitted that the congregation has only 60 members, instead of the mandatory 90 persons stipulated under the 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree.
The Union of Churches in Indonesia condemned the closure and called it a "discriminatory act" which does not "reflect inter-religious tolerance."
"We reject all forms of discrimination, which undermines the foundations of national unity and integrity," said Henrek Lokra, executive secretary of the Union of Churches' Justice And Peace Committee in a statement on April 4.
Lokra told UCA News that he is pessimistic about obtaining a permit for the Simalungun Protestant Church as applications from many other Christian denominations are pending for decades.
Halili Hasan from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace said that the sealing off of the church after it was visited by hardliners showed that "the local government is under the influence of intolerant groups."
On Feb. 19, a mob stopped worship at the David Tabernacle Christian Church in Lampung province as the place of worship did not meet the criteria prescribed under the joint decree.