Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian Christians have appealed to President Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for protection against the endless religious intolerance to which they are subjected. On Sunday, some 200 Islamic extremists forced about 100 Christians from the Batak Christian Protestant Church in Rancaekek Wetan village (West Java) to leave two houses used for worship. The extremists also attacked five private homes and wrote a letter to the authorities demanding they confiscate the house churches.
Undaunted, Rev Hutagalung, who runs the Batak Church, said, “We'll continue to worship there whatever the consequences”. At the same time though, “We want President Yudhoyono to give us a guarantee that we'll be able to practise our faith freely without any intimidation from such groups."
To avoid clashes, local police let the expulsion of Christians from house churches go ahead. The local police chief, Hendro Pandowo, said that the situation was now under control.
“If we didn’t tell the Christians to leave, there would have been worse consequences,” he explained. “We are trying to avoid destruction and attacks.”
“The Christians did not have a permit to pray together in those houses,” he noted, “and we cannot arrest Muslims authorised to protest.” In his view, police can do nothing if churches are not registered.
The Wahid Institute, an Islamic interfaith watchdog body, slammed the attitude of the police. In a press release, it condemned the attacks against the Protestant community, accusing the police of fuelling anti-Christian intolerance by its inaction.
Anti-Christian intolerance is in fact growing in Indonesia. Although the constitution recognises six official religions, including Protestant Christianity, some of the country’s laws discriminate against non-Muslims by making it hard to build non-Muslim places of worship. Christians for instance are forced to meet in private houses.
The incident in Rancaekek Wetan is but the latest in a series of clashes that have pitted Protestants against Muslims in places like Bandung (West Java) and Bekasi, near Jakarta, where at least seven churches and many Protestant clergymen have been attacked since 2009.