West Java authorities yield to Islamic pressure and close down seven Protestant churches
by Mathias Hariyadi

Cianjur district chiefs close down seven places of worship over alleged irregularities in building permits (IMB). The IMB dates back to 2006, but the churches have been active since the end of the 70s . Christian leaders: some of the faithful have moved for "security reasons", for fear of attacks.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Under pressure from Islamic extremist movements the authorities in Cianjur district , 90 km from Jakarta, have ordered the closure of seven Protestant Christian churches for alleged irregularities in building permits (the infamous IMB), confirming that the province of West Java is one of the most "intolerant" towards religious minorities in Indonesia.

The places of worship that have been closed down are: Pentecost Church in Indonesia (GPdI) in Ciranjang, the Pentecost Movement Church (GGP) also Ciranjang, the Christian New Testament Church (GKPB), the Bethlehem Pentecoste (GGPB), the Bethel Church of Indonesia (GBI), the Evangelist Whole International Church  (GISI), and the Church of People's Synod (GSJA) - all in Cianjur District of West Java Province.

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 in the name of religious fanaticism.

Rev. Oferlin Hai, president of Church of People's Synod, confirms that the alleged lack of building permits - a 2006 law - led to the seizure of the buildings. He points out, however, that the sites have been used by the community, "well before the norm became law". Already in 2013, he said, some Ciranjang police officers - under pressure from Islamic extremists - had shown hostile "attitudes"  towards Christians. Recently the president of the Forum for Interfaith Dialogue ( FKUB ) Tjepi Djauharuddin had loudly demanded their closure.

The leader explains that Christian churches have been active since 1977 and were opened with the support and approval of the local branch of the Ministry of Religious Affairs; in 1990 a similar approval was issued by the Cianjur authorities . "We no longer have a place of worship to come together and pray", says the pastor, who adds that some of the faithful "have moved to other places for security reasons".

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Increasingly however, it has become the scene of attacks or episodes of intolerance against minorities, whether they are Christians, Ahmadi Muslims or belong to other faiths. Aceh is the only Indonesian province where Sharia (Islamic law) is enforced, following a peace agreement between the central government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Yet, in many other areas of the country, a more radical and extreme vision of Islam is spreading among ordinary Indonesians.  Certain rules such as the infamous building permit (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan or IMB in Indonesian) have been used to prevent the construction of Christian places of worship or stop construction already underway, as was the case for the Yasmin Church in West Java. In December last year, at least five Christian places of worship have had to close their doors due to pressure from Islamists.