Dwi Argo Santosa, Jakarta – After many years, Christians in two of West Sumatra's predominantly Muslim districts are finally allowed to hold their own Christmas celebrations.
The Christians in Jorong Kampung Baru, Dharmasraya district, and Jorong Sungai Tambang, Sijunjung district, were previously banned from congregating for Sunday services and Christmas.
Christians in the two subdistricts were only allowed to perform prayers at their homes and were not allowed to invite their friends.
But most people were only made aware of the religious discrimination after rights group Pusaka Padang brought the case to the National Commission for Human Rights and the Ombudsman earlier this month.
Pusaka Padang's program manager, Sudarto Toto, said in a Facebook post the district heads had finally agreed to allow Christians to hold Christmas celebrations in their areas.
"After a long struggle, we've finally been informed that Catholics in Jorong Kampung Baru will be allowed to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. The construction of a permanent church will be discussed after Jan. 10 next year. Should this go ahead, I would like to thank the Dharmasraya district head, Sutan Riska, but we will continue monitoring the case," Sudarto wrote.
In another post, Sudarto said Christians in Jorong Sungai Tambang, Sijunjung district, had also been given permission to celebrate Christmas.
"I finally slept soundly last night. Now every Christian in Jorong Kampung Baru and Jorong Sungai Tambang can celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all," he wrote.
Sudarto said the regional governments' about-face was possibly triggered by a circular from Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian. "We might have to thank Mr. Tito's letter to the district heads," Sudarto said.
Tito had sent the circular to all regional government heads, ordering them to embrace and enforce religious tolerance.
"I've sent a circular to all district heads to make sure they apply the principle of religious tolerance. The district heads and the provincial police chiefs will have to get involved directly," the former National Police chief said on Monday.
Sudarto said the regional governments need to issue a regulation to enforce religious tolerance and prevent the recurrence of the Christmas bans.
Christians in Jorong Kampung Baru received their good news on Monday afternoon, while their colleagues in Jorong Sungai Tambang had to go through an intense negotiation until after midnight on Tuesday before they were given the green light, Sudarto said.
Since there is no church in Jorong Kampung Baru, Christmas will be observed in the home of a local resident, he said.
The good news quickly spread on social media as well. "Thank you to Sudarto and his friends for their tireless struggle for Christians in Jorong Kampung Baru and Jorong Sungai Tambang who now can finally celebrate Christmas and the New Year," Gayatri Munthari wrote on Facebook.
"Hopefully everyone, everywhere can celebrate their religious holy days safely and in peace," she said.