West Java: Christians in the streets to stop church demolition, charges against clergyman
by Mathias Hariyadi
About a hundred members of a Bekasi church are demonstrating in favour of religious freedom. Local authorities plan to demolish their place of worship in a few hours time. After the community's pastor files a case against a Muslim leader who proffered death threats against him, he finds himself charged with defamation and could go to jail.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - About a hundred of protesters from the Huria Kristen Batak Protestant (HKBP) Setu Church in Bekasi (West Java) took to the streets in suburban Jakarta in a final attempt to save their church, which they have been using for the past 13 years. Not far from their place of worship, some 200 Muslims are staging a counter protest, chanting and shouting slogans against them like "Demolish the church right away" and "They are infidels and they build churches without permits".

The building in question has been closed, official seals placed on its doors by local authorities claiming (along with Muslim groups) that it was built without the proper permits. Demolition, city officials said, was a matter of a few hours. Meanwhile, the pastor that runs the church has been charged of "defamation". In the past, he was the target of death threats.

Increasingly and despite the fact that religious freedom is protected under the constitution, the Christian minority in the world's most populous Muslim nation is the victim of abuse and discrimination.

In their attempt to save their church, demonstrators invoked Jesus. "All we are doing is pray; we are not breaking any law," they stressed. However, pleas and appeals appear to be getting them nowhere. The demolition of Bekasi's Setu Church appears more and more likely after years of battle before the courts between the community and local authorities.

On the margins of this case, police recently announced that it had opened a file against Rev Palti Panjaitan, a member of the Setu Church, for defamation after charges were filed against him by Abdul Azis, a Muslim extremist leader who had made death threats against the Christian clergyman in the past.

In view of these threats, Rev Panjaitan had filed charges the Muslim extremist leader in April 2012. Instead of investigating the case, police dragged its feet in order to let it lapse. However in December 2012, Abdul Azis filed defamation charges against the Christian leader.

And that is not all. Members of the Filadelfia Church have also been the victims of attacks during their religious services, which they have had to hold in the open after they were barred from their church building. Now their pastor is under investigation and could go to jail.

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