Vento Saudale & Heru Andriyanto, Bogor – A Christian congregation in Bogor has been granted a new location to build their church, ending a standoff that prevented them from congregating at the original place of worship for nearly 15 years.
Bogor Mayor Bima Arya met with leaders of the GKI Yasmin congregation on Sunday to hand over land grant documents and to ensure that they now can build the church.
He said a land of 1,668 square meters has been designated for the new church, only about 1 kilometer from the original location, promising that a building construction permit or IMB will be issued immediately to allow the construction process to start sooner.
"After the signing of these documents, the land officially belongs to the GKI. The city government will then wait for their application for the IMB. Once we receive it, we will issue one," Bima said after the meeting with GKI Yasmin leaders.
Describing the latest development as "a new chapter" in the protracted saga, he said city officials will guard the construction process until its completion and make sure that churchgoers can worship safely in the building.
"It's been a long journey up to this stage, involving at least 30 major formal meetings and more than 100 informal meetings in our efforts to reach a binding solution," the mayor said.
"Today we can prove that state capacity is there when it matters – to guarantee religious freedom for our brothers and sisters of the GKI congregation. Today the city government delivers its promise to settle a worship place problem, once and for all."
The GKI Yasmin congregation began to build a church on Jalan Abdullah bin Nuh in the West Java town in January 2007 under permit from the city government. Then Mayor Diani Budiarto was present in the cornerstone laying ceremony.
But the construction soon met opposition from various Muslim groups and several elements of the community who staged protests and blocked the construction process.
Unable to cope with the pressures, Mayor Diani revoked the permit and sealed off the half-finished building, leading to a protracted legal battle between the congregation and the city government.
The congregation has since 2008 been locked out of its church in Bogor – considered the country's most intolerant city – on the grounds that its leaders falsified data needed for the building permit.
The churchgoers, activists and legal scholars deny this, and the Supreme Court has twice ruled in favor of the congregation, but Bogor authorities continue to bar the worshipers from their church, claiming the local residents, mostly Muslim, are uncomfortable with a church in their midst.
The GKI Yasmin congregation has frequently celebrated Christmas in front of the State Palace in Central Jakarta to voice their protest.
The current mayor, who took office in 2014, said that the protracted conflict is now history.
"It deeply saddens me that Bogor is considered as the most intolerant city because of this. It's my job to make sure that Bogor is tolerant of different religions," Bima said on one occasion.