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  • » 01/12/2010, 00.00


    West Java: denial of religious freedom pushes Christians before the human rights commission

    Mathias Hariyadi

    The Protestant community of Bekasi complains about Muslim hard-liners and the authorities’ decision to stop their activities. Christian leader is bitter but hopeful. Interfaith dialogue activist warns that tensions might lead to violence.

    Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of members of the Huria Batak Protestant Christians Group (HKBP) of Bekasi, West Java, streamed before the National Human Right Commission (Komnas Ham) to demand that their right to religious freedom be upheld. They complain that Muslim hard-line groups and their local authorities have forcibly stopped their activities and cancelled their Sunday services.

    At the end of the meeting between the Komnas Ham and the HBKP, an umbrella organisation for a number of Protestant groups in Indonesia, Rev Palti Panjaitan said he was hopeful that “our requests will be heeded,” and that “local authorities would rescind their decision to suspend our activities.”

    “The decision by Bekasi officials is against the law” and violates fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion. More importantly, it “is contrary to the constitution,” Rev Panjaitan insisted.

    Worshippers at the HKBP church in Pondok Timur Indah, Mustika Jaya sub-district in East Bekasi, were notified of the decision last Sunday during the liturgical service. The letter ordering them to stop was issued on 31 December, and informed them that they had to suspend services as of 1 January 2010.

    The clergyman said he was bitter about the decision because “more than 1,500 people have no place to worship anymore.”

    The struggle of the Protestant community in Bekasi is but one of many pitting the country’s Muslim majority and Christian minority. Although Islam in Indonesia tends to be moderate, there have been cases of intolerance and attacks against religious minorities. Some areas are hotbeds of violence.

    On 3 January, hundreds of residents of the North Tambun sub district, also in West Java, prevented members of the HKBP Filadefia church from taking part in religious services.

    Previously, at the start of the Islamic New Year, a mob of extremists attacked and damaged Saint Albert Catholic Church in Harapan Indah, also in Bekasi Regency.

    Thousands of demonstrators, including women and children, stormed the building, which was still under construction, and set on fire objects of cult and other items.

    According to interfaith dialogue activist Theophillus Bella, the situation could degenerate. In Tangerang, the Protestant community has been the victim of “provocations” by residents.

    Another potential hotspot is Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Parung, Bogor Regency, where Muslims have taken to the streets to protest against a permanent church.

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    See also

    13/09/2010 INDONESIA
    Protestant pastor stabbed, religious freedom attacked
    A group of unknown assailants stabbed Rev Afian Sihombing. Currently, he is in hospital in critical conditions. Rev Luspida Simanjutak, head of a Protestant community in Pondonk Bekasi, was also injured. Activists and priests react to the incident saying such actions are an attack against pluralism, a pillar of Indonesian society.

    17/09/2010 INDONESIA
    Jakarta to review laws on religious freedom to guarantee Christian rights
    The authorities announce changes to a joint ministerial decree ((nº8 of 2006 and nº9 of 2009) after minorities engage in protest following the latest violent episodes against the Christian community. West Java governor pledges a “permanent” place of worship for the HKBP Church and its members.

    19/08/2010 INDONESIA
    Bekasi Christians not intimidated by pressures from Islamic extremists
    For months, hundreds of radical Muslims have threatened Christians and interrupted the functions of the Batak Protestant Church (HKBP). Rev Luspida Simanjutak, the community’s pastor, tells AsiaNews that she is not afraid of the extremists, and that she will continue to defend freedom of religion.

    21/07/2010 INDONESIA
    Bekasi, insults and threats from Islamic extremists at a Protestant prayer meeting
    More than 500 blocked the entrance to the field where the function was being held. The Huria Protestant Church celebrates in the open because their prayer hall was declared illegal. Thanks to the police, there were no consequences for the faithful.

    14/09/2010 INDONESIA
    Muslim organisations condemn attack against Protestant clergyman
    President Yudhoyono joins (late) his voice to those who condemned Sunday’s stabbing of Protestant pastor Afian Sihombing. Muslim organisations call for the arrest of fundamentalists who stain the soul of the nation.

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