Banten: Local authorities continue to ban churches based on a 1975 deal
The agreement linked the construction of Indonesia’s largest steel mill, built with Soviet cooperation, to a ban on Christian places of worship in the city of Cilegon. Some 7,000 Christians live in the city, but they have to travel out of town to attend weekend services. The Minister for Religious Affairs attempted mediation but without success.
Banten (AsiaNews) – No church has been built for 50 years in Cilegon, a city in the Indonesian province of Banten, even though it is home to 7,000 Christians, including at least a thousand Catholics.
The stems from an agreement signed in 1975 by Ronggo Waluyo, then head of Serang regency (district) and Krakatau Steel, Indonesia’s largest steel mill. Under the deal, no churches were to be allowed in the area in exchange for the steel plant, which was built with Soviet cooperation.
Today Cilegon is no longer under Serang, but the hard-line attitude towards Christians remains, to the point that, according to a report published in recent days, the city is the most intolerant place in all of Indonesia.
“Protestant Church leaders have applied several times to build their place of worship, only to have their request turned down by local authorities even though all administrative requirements have been met,” explained Hajj Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, Minister of Religious Affairs, during a meeting with Batak Protestant Church leaders.
Still, Qoumas said that he would try to do everything in his power so that the Indonesian constitution, which guarantees religious freedom to all communities, is also upheld in Cilegon. But “The real problem is not at the base but the hard-line of the local administration”.
Wawan Djunaedi, head of the Ministry’s Religious Harmony Centre, agrees with the minister. “Since April several friendly attempts have been made by my office to address the issue, but there has been no fruitful outcome so far,” he said.
Recently, a video shows Cilegon Mayor Helldy Agustian and Deputy Mayor Sanuji Pentamarta adding their signatures to a large white canvas used by residents to oppose the possible construction of a church.
Even the local Ulema Council issued a statement against the Christian place of worship.
Cilegon is located in the westernmost part of the island of Java. At present, Christian residents are forced to travel to Serang for weekend religious services, with many forced to use for public transport at considerable expense.