12/28/2013, 00.00
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Bogor: Yasmin Church members celebrate Christmas outdoors after Islamists seize their church

Despite two favourable Supreme Court rulings and two years of waiting, Protestant Christians in West Java still cannot use their place of worship after it was sealed off under pressure from fundamentalists. Christmas services are held under the protection of more than 300 police and security agents. Underground religious activities show what "freedom for minorities" means in "modern and democratic" Indonesia, Christian leader says.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Members of the Yasmin Church in Bogor, West Java, celebrated Christmas in a temporary shelter, clinging to the hope that one day their church can reopen.

Two years ago, district authorities seized the church used by the Protestant Christian community for weekend services and major holidays.

They took the building for alleged irregularities in its construction permits, following pressures from local Islamic extremists, who are bent on denying equality rights and freedom of worship to the city's small but significant religious minority.

Their pressures have proved stronger than two rulings by the Indonesian Supreme Court in favour of the Yasmin Church, ordering the building's return to the community and its reopening.

In fact, local authorities have refused to enforce the Supreme Court's decision in order to appease the demands of fundamentalist movements.

 "We have been forced to hide for some time now," going "from one place to another," said Dori Susanto, 60. Until "our rightful place of worship" is not returned, "we shall continue to do so," she added.

In 2006, district authorities granted the community all the building permits required by the law, only to cancel them under pressure from the Muslim majority, stirred up by extremist Islamic groups.

For this reason, members of the GKI Yasmin Church celebrated another Christmas at a location far from their church, whose doors remain are still sealed by order of the Bogor Municipality.

The Protestant community held the services in a makeshift shelter, which had a roof but was otherwise open to the weather, surrounded by at least 300 police and security officers. Not far away, Islamists and members of radical Muslim groups stood by watching the scene.

Still, the faithful were not intimidated and tried instead to participate in the various events. "We're doing the right thing," some of them said, "and we are not afraid."

Their leader and spokesperson Bona Sigalingging backed their stance, saying that church members are determined and resolute to continue the celebrations out in the open or at emergency sites, until their place of worship is not returned.

"Underground religious activities are a clear signal to the government," he added. "In an ostensibly democratic country, there is still the discriminatory practice of sealing off their places of worship."

A prominent local Muslim leader named Turmudi, joined in Christmas celebrations at the Yasmin Church, stressing that it is the duty of Muslims to "maintain ties with others ", including religious minorities.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has seen a rise in the number of attacks or acts of intolerance against minorities, including Christians, Ahmadi Muslims and others.

Aceh is the only Indonesian province that enforces Sharia (Islamic law), following a peace deal between the central government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM); however, in many other parts of the country, people are subjected to more radical and extreme visions of Islam.

In addition, certain rules such as the notorious building permit (Ijin Mendirikan Bangunan or IBM in Indonesian) are used to prevent construction or seal off places worship, like the Yasmin Church in West Java.

Indonesia's constitution does recognise freedom of religion, but Christians have become the victims of acts of violence and abuse in the recent past.

In December alone, at least five Christian places of worship had to close their doors because of pressure from Islamists, local sources report.

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