07/03/2013, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Hundreds of Muslim extremists against the construction of a Catholic church in Bekasi

by Mathias Hariyadi
Protesters took to the streets, demanding a stop to construction because the building would only fuel sectarian anger. Catholic sources note that all the right paperwork was done over a ten-year period; they also reject accusations of proselytising. President Yudhoyono is criticised for failing to guarantee complete religious freedom.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of Muslim extremists staged a two-day protest against the construction of the Saint Stanislaus Kotska Catholic Church in Kranggan, a sub-district in Bekasi Regency, West Java province.

In what looks like a repeat of events in Bogor, where members of the Yasmin Church are up against local authorities, Catholics in Kranggan might see their efforts come to naught, including their application for a building permit.

They had first applied for the latter began in 2003 and met every bureaucratic request. However, protesters object that a Christian building in a Muslim area would only fuel sectarian conflict and undermine peaceful coexistence among religious groups.

During demonstrations earlier this week, extremists appealed to the authorities in Bekasi to "freeze" the application for a building permit (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan or IMB).

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation (mostly Sunni), church construction is complicated and can take between five and 10 years before authorisation is granted by local authorities.

In this case, applicants must obtained a number of signatures from local area residents as well as the green light from the Group for Interfaith Dialogue. Oftentimes, Islamist pressures or threats are brought to bear to stop applications.

Catholic sources told AsiaNews that everything was done by the book to get IMB, which the authorities granted on 17 December 2012.

Agung Dewabrata, secretary of the Catholic organising committee, insisted that his group carried out "scrupulous work" since 2003, "without ever proselytising" among non-Catholics.

However, Muslim extremists have used accusations of proselytising and conversion over the past 30 years to target minorities and get the authorities to revoke building permits relating to places of worship, especially in the province of West Java.

According to Catholic sources, "people from other villages who have nothing to do with the church" are behind the protest in Kranggan, "not locals". Paradoxically, the same outsiders claim that there are only "two Catholics" in the whole area, something that is totally "devoid of any foundation" because there are many more Catholics.

For activists and representatives of civil society organisations, this latest episode of religious intolerance is further demonstration of the failure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's attempt to create a truly multicultural and pluralistic society.

The recent decision by a US foundation to award him a prize for defending religious freedom has caused a sensation and dismay.

On receiving his prize, the president listed his administration's alleged successes in the areas of pluralism and civil rights, claims quickly undone by events in Bekasi.

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