Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta – A Christian church in Indonesia closed by local authorities more than a decade ago has rejected a local mayor's move to end the resulting dispute by relocating their congregation.
The congregation of the Christian Church in Indonesia (GKI Yasmin) in Bogor, West Java province, said the mayor's bid to end the 15-year standoff that has seen congregation members hold regular services outside the presidential palace was unacceptable and called on President Joko Widodo to intervene in the case.
Bogor mayor Bima Arya presented land grant documents earlier this week. He said a land plot had been designated for the congregation's new church, about one kilometer from the original location, and promised to issue a building permit immediately so that construction work could start soon.
He asserted that peace could only be attained by mutual understanding instead of judging each other.
However, GKI Yasmin spokesman Bona Sigalingging questioned the mayor's intentions on June 15, saying local authorities had ignored court orders calling on them to allow the church to reopen. He said the congregation wanted to stay at the original location.
The GKI Yasmin congregation began building a church in 2007 after securing a permit from the local government, but the then-mayor revoked it and sealed off the half-finished church due to strong opposition from Muslim groups.
Based on these two indicators, it is clear that the mayor's claim that he has taken care of the case after 15 years is a public lie
A year later, they were banned from using their church because of alleged irregularities regarding a 2006 building application.
A Supreme Court ruling, backed by the Ombudsman, that the congregation has the right to worship in the church has been ignored by the local mayor.
"Based on these two indicators, it is clear that the mayor's claim that he has taken care of the case after 15 years is a public lie. It is not true that the case has been resolved. Our church is still sealed off and our building permit has not been reactivated," Bona said.
Meanwhile, Sumantoro, a GKI Yasmin member, said none of the congregation were ever invited by the local government to any meeting to find a solution. "The mayor's move ignores what we have fought for," he said.
In a three-page statement, the congregation and several human rights activists urged the mayor to keep his commitment to upholding the law and constitution and reopen the church immediately.
They also called on Widodo "to punish local leaders who fail to obey the law and the constitution" and "to immediately end discrimination and intolerance committed by several Bogor mayors for years."