02/21/2014, 00.00
INDONESIA
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South Sumatra, hundreds of Islamists block the construction of a Protestant church

by Mathias Hariyadi
An armed mob has occupied a plot of land owned by the Christian community Huria Kristen Batak Protestan. Raid motivated by lack of building permit. The leadership of the Hkbp lodges IMB application in 2011, to no avail . The Minister for Religious Affairs orders the termination of the project.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Late yesterday afternoon, hundreds of armed men, led by local Muslim leaders, stormed and forcibly occupied a plot of land owned by the Indonesian Christian community Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP). The incident occurred in the village of Talang Kelapa , located in the sub-district of Alang -alang Lebar in the regency of Palembang, South Sumatra province. The raid was motivated by an attempt to build a place of worship.  In fact, on February 17 the ceremony of laying the first stone was held, amid protests from local residents. A decision that has created discontent among Muslims, who organized a task force to occupy the land - two acres in all - and to send a strong message to HKBP leaders: churches are not allowed in the area.

The process for building a church in Indonesia - Catholic or Protestant - is quite complicated and may take five to ten years to obtain all permits required by law. The procedure is governed by the Izin Mendirikan Bangunan (IMB), a species of written protocol that allows for construction to commence and is issued by local authorities.  The story gets more complicated if it is a place of Christian worship: permission must be obtained from a number of residents in the area where the building is to be constructed and the local Group for Interfaith Dialogue. And even if the permission is granted "unspecified reasons" can come into play that will lead officials to block the projects. Often, this occurs after pressure from the Muslim community or radical Islamic movements.

Since 2011, the Christian community has initiated procedures to obtain the necessary permits, without any concrete results. Moreover, the lack IMB provides a legal foothold to the Muslim majority, who can enforce breaches and irregularities in the procedures to stop the building and forcibly occupy land. Junaidi Alhafidz, a local Muslim leader who headed the mob in fact declared the raid was motivated by "the Hkbp's lack of IMB permit" reflecting the fact that "the authorities in Palembang have not yet authorized the building". He also reiterated opposition "to the construction of a church".

The Islamic leader points to the fact that the signatures of 60 residents of the area are missing, as well as the minimal number of faithful (90) necessary to get the go- ahead for the construction of the building.  This is confirmed by the head of sub-district Sulaiman Amien, who states that the local Protestant community "has not yet received the permits". The Ministry for Religious Affairs of Palembang has also weighed in ordering the HKBP to "halt" the project until all legal procedures are completed.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has seen a rise in the number of attacks or acts of intolerance against minorities, including Christians, Ahmadi Muslims and others. In the province of Aceh - the only in the Archipelago to apply Islamic law ( Sharia ) - following a peace agreement between the central government and the Free Aceh Movement ( GAM ) , the application of a radical form of Islam among citizens is becoming more extreme. In addition, certain rules such as the building permit - the infamous IMB - are exploited to prevent the building or close down places of worship, as was the case in West Java against Yasmin Church. The constitution provides for freedom of religion, but the community is the victim of incidents of violence and abuse. Local sources report that in December alone , at least five Christian places of worship have had to close their doors due to pressure from Islamists.

 

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