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Jambi church members still face prejudice, find it difficult to relocate

Jakarta Post - February 26, 2019

Jon Afrizal, Jambi – Months after being forced to close their houses of worships, members of the Assemblies of God Church (GSJA) in Jambi City, Jambi, have found a new site to build their church. Yet, challenges still await them.

The church in West Kenali subdistrict was among the three closed down by the Jambi City administration following protests by residents. Claiming that the buildings lacked permits, the administration also sealed the Indonesian Huria Christian Church and Indonesian Methodist Church.

Located 3 kilometers from its original site, the new site for the GSJA church in Pinang Merah will cost Rp 800 million (US$59,906), comprising Rp 500 million to build the church and Rp 300 million for the land.

"There is no other way. We have to relocate to avoid conflict," GSJA priest Jonathan Klasier on Saturday. But he added that financing the relocation would not be easy as church devotees were on middle or low incomes.

Nevertheless, he expressed hope that the city administration could protect them with a city bylaw to avoid future relocation.

According to local reports, pressure against GSJA members has continued even with the church accepting that it would have to leave the neighborhood.

Residents demanded church members follow the cuci kampung (kampung cleansing) ritual by buying them a buffalo worth Rp 25 million and holding a feast before leaving. The ritual is usually imposed on people who commit adultery.

Rights activists have condemned the church closure, saying that the city administration had violated regulations by sealing the church without following the legal process.

The administration's national and political unity office head Liphan Pasaribu said the church was one of many houses of worship that faced conflict with residents in the city. He said at least 70 churches and 100 mosques were disputed by the communities where they were located.

"The buildings do not have permits from their neighborhoods," he said. He added the buildings had also failed to obtain permits from the local customary law institution.

Helmi, a law expert from the University of Jambi, said the central government, administrative and religious leaders should take part to solve the problem by promoting religious and cultural harmony.

He expressed concern that certain individuals could take advantage of the incident amid the divisions within communities.

"[The administration] could surely just issue the permits. All that is needed is the administration's will to grant them a permit and allow the devotees to worship in their church," Helmi said.

The Indonesian Communion of Churches previously condemned the church closure, saying that it violated citizens' constitutional rights to practice their religion. (mai)

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/02/26/jambi-church-members-still-face-prejudice-find-it-difficult-to-relocate.html