Ivany Atina Arbi, Jakarta – A Baptist church has become the latest Christian construction project to be halted in Semarang, Central Java, following protests from non-Christian residents in a sign of growing religious intolerance among the majority Muslim population.
Local protests over the construction of churches have become common in many predominantly Muslim areas in Indonesia, with local authorities tending to side with protestors In some, if not most, cases.
In a statement made available to The Jakarta Post on Thursday, the Semarang Legal Aid Institute (LBH), which legally represents Tlogosari Baptist Church, said that officials from the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) had come and put a halt to ongoing construction on the church.
LBH Semarang said that the action had no any legal basis and showed that officials were bowing to pressure from "intolerant groups".
"What the agency is doing is a form of abuse of power and violates the law," it said in the statement, stressing that the church construction project had already secured the necessary building permit (IMB).
A group of Semarang residents held a protest at City Hall on March 6 to demand that the church's construction be stopped. The protest group claimed that the project had obtained the IMB through "deceit" by getting them to sign a blank paper.
Wahyudi, the head of Tlogosari Baptist Church, was quick to dismiss the accusation, saying that the church organization had openly asked for the residents' permission to proceed with the project in 1998, when it first applied for the permit.
A 2006 joint ministerial decree requires that all development projects for places of worship, no matter the religion, must obtain 90 signatures from followers of the religion, as well as 60 signatures from followers of other religions who live near the planned site of the development, before the project may be proposed.