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