04/06/2010, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Indonesian Christians turn to administrative courts to obtain permits to build churches

by Mathias Hariyadi
Court rulings help Christian communities build their churches. Administrative courts tend to overturn decisions by municipal authorities taken to appease Muslim extremists who want to stop the construction of churches and other Christian places of worship. Extremist mobs stop Good Friday services in West Java.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Increasingly, Christian communities are turning to Indonesia’s administrative courts to see their right to build churches upheld. However, Christians continue to be the target of attacks. Last Friday, a mob disrupted Good Friday celebrations, forcing some 600 worshipers to flee the St John the Baptist Catholic Church in Parung, Bogor Regency (district), West Java.

Under Indonesian law, a permit (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan in Indonesian) is required for building a church or any other type of construction; however, there are additional requirements when it comes to Christian places of worship, namely 60 signatures from residents living near the planned church and the approval of the local inter-faith dialogue group.

Even when all this is done, Christians are often faced with Islamic extremists who, moved by religious fanaticism, try to put pressure local authorities to withdraw the permit. Under such circumstances, administrative courts (Pengadilan Tata Usaha Negara in Indonesian) become the tribunal of last resort and are often able to obtain “peace agreement” that allow construction to start or resume.

The latest case involves the St Mary Church in Bandung Regency (West Java). The local administrative court overturned a decision by Purwakarta Mayor Dedy Mulyadi who had stopped the construction of the Catholic church under pressure from Muslim extremists. The court ruled that the permit had been issued in accordance with the law, and authorised the start of construction. Mgr Johannes Pujasumarta Pr, bishop of Bandung, welcomed the decision with joy. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said the ruling “was the fruit of our non-stop prayers.”

Another case involves Protestants in Cinere (West Java). The administrative court upheld the rights of the local Christian Protestant Batak Synod Church (HKBP), which won its legal battle against Depok Mayor Nur Mahmudi Ismail.

The two rulings made in the past few months have raised hopes among the members of the Filadelfia HKBP in Bekasi Regency after they filed a complaint against Bekasi’s mayor over a disputed permit.

The administrative court will have to decide again on the merit the case. Following protests by thousands of Muslims, who view the construction of a church as an “insult”, local municipal authorities rejected the demand by the Filadelfia HKBP community to build a church. This has deprived thousands of worshippers of the opportunity to attend Mass.

Meanwhile, Muslims extremists disrupted Holy Week services. On Good Friday, a mob of Muslim fanatics, stirred by the local Ulema Forum, interrupted the Mass at the St John the Baptist Catholic Church in Parung, Bogor Regency (West Java). The 600 or so worshippers attending the event were forced to flee the building for the relative security of a nearby restaurant.

Threats by extremists had begun the night before, during Holy Thursday services. In this case, the dispute was also over a building permit. During their protest, Muslims shouted slogans like “No permits, no masses.”

Anonymous sources told AsiaNews that Bogor authorities have had the permit application for some time but have not yet approved it under pressure from Muslim extremist groups.

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