04/30/2009, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Muslim mayor rescinds construction permit for Protestant church

by Mathias Hariyadi
Christians in Depok have been trying to build a church for many years. When they were granted a building permit they decided to postpone construction so as not to irk local Muslims. But for the local Christians synod the decision to rescind the permit is “illegal” because the mayor, whom some say has extremist views, cannot revoke it.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Christian Synod in Depok is strongly opposed to the sudden decision by the local mayor, Nur Mahmudi Ismail, to rescind the permit to build a church in Puri Pesanggrahan IV, a subdistrict of Cinere, Limo (Depok, West Java). Rev Simon Todingallo, head of the synod, slammed the decision, saying that it is the result of “sporadic pressure” from a few people who do not want a church in the area, whereas the “entire Christian community of Depok” wants to see it built and have the mayor reverse his decision.

The mayor’s action came without any explanations, justified only on the ground that the authorities have the right to cancel any prior decision, including building permits.

For Reverend Todingallo the measure is instead illegal because “any issue relating to a new church building must go to the local Interfaith Dialogue Forum.” Thus the mayor has no right to decide alone, in part because the power to decide lies in a higher authority, namely a ministerial decree jointly signed by the Religious Affairs and Internal Affairs Ministries.

For the past nine years local Christians have been trying to build a church. Initially the main obstacle was financial. But now money is no longer a problem, said project manager Betty Sitompul; enough funds are available to start construction, but protests began when people who “are not from Limo; outsiders from Pondok Cabe,” ten kilometres away, got involved.

Because of such protests, then Mayor Badrul Kamal asked Christians to suspend rebuilding for a short period of time.

In January and then June 2008 Christians wrote to the mayor informing him of their intention of starting again. But they got no answer.

They went back again last February to discuss the issue, but other people wrote to the mayor they did not want a church at Limo.

Building churches with a permit in Indonesia is a must since so many have been demolished or set on fire by Islamic extremists because of the lack of a permit. And none of church destroyers have ever been prosecuted.

Major Nur Mahmudi was the local leader of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), an extremist political party accused by minorities of being against them and non Muslims.

For some analysts the PKS is a den of Islamists, influenced by Middle Eastern Wahhabis, even if the party’s former leader Hidayat Nurwahid, a possible vice-presidential candidate, has always denied any connection with Wahhabi groups.

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