West Java, Islamic extremists block construction of St. Clare Parish
by Mathias Hariyadi
Opponents argue that the faithful do not have a building permit. In reality, the permit was obtained, after 17 years. The church should serve 9 thousand faithful. The Bekasi mayor gives in to protesters' demands. Religious intolerance is one the rise in the country and there is a certain "impotence" of the government in curbing Islamic Extremists. A long list of churches blocked or scrapped.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Islamic extremist groups have succeded in blocking the construction of the parish church of St. Clare in the District of Bekasi (West Java), after a massive demonstration that lasted all day yesterday.

The protesters claim that the Catholic community does not have the necessary building permit. When the mayor of Bekasi, Rahmat Effendi, showed them the permit, they accused him of having forged it on the back of bribes. The Bekasi authorities have staunchly rejected the charges, but for the moment, Effendi has advised Christians to stop the construction of the church. To "minimize tensions" Catholics will celebrate Sunday Mass at a building owned by the Army.

Since 2006, it has become increasingly complicated to obtain permits to build churches (IMB, Izin Mendirikan Bangunan). According to a joint decree issued by the Ministry for Religious Affairs and the Ministry for the Interior, any project for a church must have the signature of at least 90 worshipers as well as the signature of at least 60 local residents and be approved by the village chief.

St. Clare's parish - which had been waiting for its permit for 17 years – had obtained all the necessary signatures and was given the go ahead on 28 July, but since then, groups of Islamic extremists - apparently not local residents – demanded that the foundations of the church building be dismantled. Murtado Ali, one of the protesters said that no church should be built in North Bekasi, a city that only consists of "pious Muslims".

"We - he adds - demand that the mayor (who issued the IMB) revoke the permit given that the employees of the municipality were bribed to produce it”.

Emmanuel Dapa Loka, one of the parishioners and a writer, told AsiaNews: "I was personally involved in the process of obtaining IMB. The Committee for the construction of the church diligently obeyed all legal procedures. All documents, including signatures of the neighbors were filled in with professionalism; their letters of support were prepared under the guidance of the local ministry for religious affairs, and have received the official seal@.

"Representatives of the interfaith board of control – he continues - and representatives of the Bekasi Ministry of Religious Affairs came to visit the place where the church will be built" it will serve at least 9 thousand faithful. For all this, Emmanuel concludes that the demonstrators allegations are false. They are a cliché of similar complaints used by extremist groups to stop the development of the Christian community.

From Suharto to Widodo

After the fall of President Suharto in 1998, Indonesia has been increasingly characterized by religious intolerance. The Suharto era (1966-1998) saw an authoritarian management of power and total control over social life. In contrast today in Indonesia there seems to be an “absence of power" to confront and reduce the influence of extremist Muslim groups which attack minority groups, especially Catholics and Protestants, with increasing frequency.

The (IMB) permit to build a chapel, or a church, or to restore or rebuild an existing structure has become a crucial issue and source of protest for fanatics.

Last July, a Protestant church which had been restored, received a demolition order from the government of South Jakarta after a wave of protests by extremist groups, who affirmed that the church had not received any building permit.

The governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known locally as Ahok, did everything to ensure the faithful the IMB, noting that the church had existed since 1972 and that no one ever felt offended or disturbed, until groups from outside the village came along to organize protests.

As already mentioned, the parish of St. Clare also obtained the IMB, yet protests continue. The case of the church of St. Bernadette in Ciledug (district of Tangerang) is even more serious. The parish board had obtained permission, but the construction had to be stopped because the demonstrators blocked the entrances to the church building site.

Last year, another church in Cibubur provoked protests of Muslim extremists and the construction was postponed.

The most alarming case is that of the GKI Yasmin Church in Bogor (West Java). Still today the Protestant Christians do not have access to their property to build the church. For several weekends faithful celebrated the liturgical service in front of the presidential palace, but the gesture has so far failed to move President Joko Widodo to implement his commitment to protect religious minorities.

The situation was even worse under President Yudhoyono: he was praised internationally for his projects in defense of religious harmony, but in reality, the religious tolerance in the country has gone from bad to worse.