05/24/2010, 00.00
INDONESIA
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West Java: Islamic authorities shut down church, Christians celebrate in the street

by Mathias Hariyadi
Bogor mayor closes the church of an important local Christian group, banning all its activities. The faithful protest and take their faith to the streets. Rights groups issue official protest.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Bogor authorities (West Java province) ordered the closure of a local church building that belongs to Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI), a Christian group also known as Gereja Kristen Yasmin Bogor. This has outraged hundreds of faithful and induced the Indonesian Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) to file an official protest.

In an official statement, GKI followers called the decision to ban their religious and social meetings unlawful. They note, “The mayor of Bogor granted the IMB (building permit) back on 13 May 2006.”

The closure had initially been ordered by Bogor’s City and Gardening authority in February 2008, but was overturned because the matter falls under the mayor’s jurisdiction.

After a series of protests by local extremist Islamic groups, the city decided to close the church and suspend the GKI despite the fact that the Christian group had all the necessary permits to build its church and practice its faith.

For some time, local Islamic groups had been protesting publicly and violently against Christians, accusing them of “proselytising”.  They are certainly opposed to Christians having any building, even if the latter did not have a religious purpose.

At the end of April, extremists attacked and set fire to a Christian centre in Bogor on the ground that Christians wanted to build a house of prayer disguised as an educational facility. Instead of stopping the rioters, the authorities banned Christians from engaging in any activities.

Komnas HAM Commissioner Johny Nelson Simanjutak said in a statement, “GKI leaders met all the necessary administrative requirements to obtain a permit to build a place of worship,”

In the meantime, “closure order has not been executed yet,” Simanjutak said, and “Bogor authorities have not yet responded favourably to their request”.

The human rights organisation is still examining the situation to determinate the best course of action.

Simanjutak warned the faithful against taking any unlawful action.

Rev Gomar Gultom said that Bogor authorities would not stop the faithful, who are ready to show their faith in the streets despite a 2008 court ban.

Two weeks ago, more than 60 church members did celebrate in a street, despite police attempts to stop them.

Many of them, like Thomas Wadu Dara, believe that such demonstrations must continue so that they can defend their rights.

Last week-end, Calvin Labe, president of the Synod of the Church of West Java, attended the Mass. He criticised the decision of Mayor Diani Budiarto, arguing that “the law must be applied impartially, towards minority groups as well. Bogor authorities must respect the fundamental right to practice one’s faith.”

Now, the faithful are more concerned because “Akhmat Ruyat, Bogor’s second in command, chairs the Interfaith Communication Forum”, an institution in each Indonesian district that plays a fundamental role in determining whether places of worship can be built or not.

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