Jakarta – Christians demanded on Thursday that the local administration and Religious Harmony Forum (FKUB) be more active in putting an end to discriminatory actions related to the construction of churches in several parts of the country.
On Dec. 23 and 24, residents of Sepatan subdistrict in Tangerang, Banten, protested Christmas services at two churches in the area, namely the Congregation of Batak Protestant Churches (HKBP) Rogate and the Pentecostal church, forcing congregations to leave their church buildings.
The Rogate church has been sealed off since Christmas Eve as it has not been granted a building permit despite applying for one two years ago. The Pentecostal church, meanwhile, is still operating, having obtained permission nine years ago.
Church member Aritonang Golden said the protests were coming from outsiders, as local residents had agreed to the construction of a church.
"Only residents in the Golden City housing compound had given their signatures," he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday, adding that the church members were currently waiting for the forum and local administration to resolve the case.
Suwandri, head of a neighborhood unit in the housing compound, said the residents were basically fine with the church since the compound, established in 2012, was still new.
"We only have around 40 family cards. We don't completely understand this matter. When the protest occurred, most of us were working," he said.
In 2008, the Bogor city administration, in West Java, issued a decree freezing the GKI Yasmin church's building permit in response to resistance from residents. Higher authorities had nullified the decision, but the ban remains in place.
HKBP Filadelfia in Bekasi, also in West Java, faced a similar problem when the local administration sealed off the location where the church was to be built in 2010. Both the Bandung and Jakarta state administrative courts, as well as the Supreme Court, ruled in favor of HKBP Filadelfia in 2011. However, its church members are still unable to congregate at the church.
Indonesian Communion of Churches spokesperson Jeirry Sumampow said the recent incident in Sepatan showed the government had made no significant progress in upholding religious rights.
He noted that conflicts had repeatedly occurred in different regions, even in places where a church obtained the minimum 60-signature requirement needed to secure a permit.
The requirements are detailed in a joint regulation from the Religious Affairs Ministry and Home Ministry on the establishment of houses of worship.
"We have no problem with the law, but the local administrations often refuse to issue permits because of protests from outsiders. Residents [...] were incited by them. This happened in several places," he said.
"If there is resistance, the locals would also be hesitant to give approval, or could withdraw their agreement like in the GKI Yasmin case."
Setara Institute recorded 378 cases of vandalism related to worship houses in the last 11 years. Church cases or cases in which worshipers faced difficulties in establishing churches comprise 195 of the cases.
It also stated that Tangerang faced similar problems to those experienced in the Jakarta suburbs of Bekasi, Depok and Bogor, where minority groups have struggled to establish worship houses.
FKUB head Saefuddi said that, as the joint regulation clearly outlined the permit process, a team would be assigned to resolve the situation.
Home Ministry secretary general Hadi Prabowo said the minority group could not depend solely on the forum in dealing with the issue."They should talk to the mayor. Even though there were many protesters, at least as a mayor, he or she must be able to resolve this," Prabowo said. (ggq)