08/05/2011, 00.00
INDONESIA

Sumatra: Ramadan begins with the burning of two Protestant churches

Mathias Hariyadi
A crowd of at least 100 people attacked and torched a prayer centre of the Christian Batak Synod (Hkbp). They had previously attacked another Christian church five miles away. The violence took place on the first day of the holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A mob of a hundred people attacked and set fire to two Protestant house churches in Logas Tanah Darat, in the Regency of Kuantan, Riau Province (Sumatra). The incident occurred August 1, coinciding with the start of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims, but the news was broadcast by a radio station in Jakarta only late yesterday afternoon. The new attack against the Christian minority, according to some experts, is also a consequence of the "soft" sentences recently imposed by courts against extremists and Islamic leaders in Indonesia.

One of the two places of worship burned belonged to the Protestant Christian Batak Synod (Hkbp). Sahat Tarigan, leader of the Protestant Christian Karo, reports of at least 100 people who gathered around the building, chanting hostile slogans and brandishing weapons. Suddenly the assailants poured gasoline over the place of worship, then set it on fire. Previously, the crowd had attacked another house church located about five kilometers away. The Christian leader added that "our people have nothing to do with the assailants," who struck on Aug. 1 to coincide with the start of Ramadan.

The Christian prayer centers were situated in an area with a Muslim majority, but there are no records of episodes of violence or intolerance in the past. "In short - Tarigan Sahat concludes - we have no idea why they set fire [to the church]."

However, in Indonesia there are frequent cases of violence against religious minorities and places of worship. And the police, instead of pursuing those responsible, justify the fires - as happened in the last case - arguing that the churches are built of wood "and so burn easily." Added to this is the inertia of the judges and courts which impose laughable penalties against extremists and Islamic leaders who foment violence or commit heinous crimes (see AsiaNews 29/07/2011, Light sentences for Muslim extremists who attacked Ahmadis AsiaNews 18/06/2011, Central Java, Justice held in check only one year for imam who ordered attack on three churches).


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