Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The legal and verbal confrontation between the municipal authorities of the West Java city of Bogor and the members of the Yasmin Church could become an open “war”. Bogor’s mayor, elected on the ticket of an Islamic party, has ordered Christians to accept the transfer of their church to another area of the city. Yasmin Church members have countered that the Supreme Court has backed their claims, and are opposed to moving their place of worship. As an act of protest, they held this Sunday’s services out in the street (pictured).
Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto, from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), wants the church moved to avoid a confrontation between local hard-line Islamists and Yasmin Church members.
In a recent press statement, he raised the ante, saying that Christians “must” either accept the move to another location, or reject the proposal. However, for him, it is clear that “they [the Christians] want a place of worship or will stage a war [against me].”
“Totally absurd” is how Christians have described Budiarto’s proposal because it does not take into account a sentence of the Supreme Court, which authorities Yasmin Church members to continue building their church.
The country’s top judges ruled against Mayor Budiarto in a decision that reiterated the principle that religious freedom applies to all. After issuing a building permit in 2006, the mayor had reversed his decision and told Christians they could not build their church.
Under Indonesian law, churches of all denominations (Catholic or Protestant) require a local building permit as well as 60 signatures from local residents before they can build a place of worship.
Despite meeting all the requirements, Christians are often faced with opposition from local Islamic fundamentalists and fanatics who put pressure on local government to stop construction and rescind building permits.
Yesterday, Bogor Christians celebrated Sunday Mass in the open and announced that they would fight for their rights.
A group of members of the Yasmin Church filed a complaint with police against Mayor Budiarto for his words about “war” against their church.
“We shall never stop fighting for religious freedom”, Bona Sigalingging ShH told AsiaNews. Rev Ujang Tanusaputra slams “bellicose statements” by hard-line Muslim groups, whilst Rev Nugroho has called on the government to “intervene” because the municipality violated the supremacy of the law.
The head of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest (and moderate) Muslim organisation, has expressed its support for Bogor Christians and their cause.
Kiai Hajj Hasyim Muzadi said he is prepared to put pressures on local authorities “to find a valid option to solve the problem rather than focus only on technical issues like the building permit.”
Indonesia’s parliament has also joined the fray, inviting Bogor municipal officials to Jakarta to discuss the matter at a hearing with lawmakers.