08/26/2005, 00.00
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Indonesian politicians defend Christians in West Java fundamentalist attacks

by Mathias Hariyadi

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Political forces of the Muslim-majority country have condemned the islamic fundamentalism of West Java expressed in anti-Christian violence and undue pressure. After the appeal on 23 August of Gus Dur – Indonesia's foremost Muslim leader – a group of Indonesian MPs aligned themselves with him and expressed "deep preoccupation" about the acts of the Islamic Defender Front, which is composed of Islamic fundamentalists.

The group is accused of having used violent means to force 23 Christian churches to close within a year in West Java alone. Agung Sasongko, elected representative of the Indonesian Democratic Party, published the parliamentarians' appeal and called on the government "to take serious action to address the issue". "The government should quickly act as should our national police," said Sasongko, a member of the House's Commission VII which deals with religious affairs. "Serious action should be taken against those who committed vandalism." Sasongko will carry out special hearings in parliament with victims present.

The document presented to parliament states: "Nobody has the authority to be a judge, as there only one God. This is why such vandalistic action must stop."

Tiurlan Hutagaol, MP of the Christian-based Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) voiced the same preoccupation as the democrats. He presented an amendment of the 1969 Decree to the government; the decree lays down specific criteria and permits for the erection of churches.

The appeals follow those made recently Kiai Haj Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) who addressed the fundamentalists directly and threatened to send paramilitary troops acting on his orders to West Java to protect Christians under threat. The appeal of the highly popular Gus Dur, who runs a movement of 40 million Muslims, prompted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to order Maftuh Basyuni, Religious Affairs Minister, to investigate the matter "in a prudent manner".

Ahmad Sobri, a member of the Islamic Front who is responsible for internal affairs, was quoted as saying: "We have never forcibly closed down churches. The issue was a big lie and an act of defamation, There has no been vandalism and anarchism." Sobri said the buildings closed by force were not churches but houses used illegally as places of prayer.

According to a joint ministerial decree by the ministries of Internal and Religious Affairs, to pray in the homes of faithful, permission is needed from the local Religious Affairs Office and the head of the local neighbourhood unit.

"We closed the houses because the Christians inside did not show us the permits and we wanted to restore the building to its primary function," said Sobri, adding: "Holding prayers and service in a church without a permit in a major Muslim area could be misunderstood as an act of proselytism".

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