06/27/2008, 00.00
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Indonesian authorities tear down three churches in Bekasi

by Benteng Reges
Disregarding an agreement reached with Christian religious leaders, Indonesian officials demolish three Protestant churches, which had been previously forced to suspend their Sunday functions. Christians complain about what they view as a “discriminatory act against us.”

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian authorities failed to uphold an agreement that guaranteed freedom of worship to three Protestant Churches proceeding instead to tear down the buildings where their communities prayed. The event took place last 14 June in Bekasi Regency, West Java Province, a place characterised by violence and abuses by Muslim fundamentalists against so-called home churches. This time though, Christians were “attacked” by public authorities themselves. Theo Billa, a Catholic activist in touch with the Protestant clergymen from the targeted Churches, talked to AsiaNews about the disquieting episode

Since October 2005 three church buildings (located in Kelurahan Jatimulya, Kecamatan Tambun Selatan and Kabupaten Bekasi) have not been used for Sunday Mass following an agreement with the local administration; in exchange the authorities said they would provide the three Churches at least a “prayer hall” pending a decision on their application to build a regular place of worship. They also pledged not to destroy the home churches used up to that time.

The promise was not kept. The Protestant clergyman complained that they had to pay local authorities an excessively high rent for the use of prayer hall, which forced them hold their services in private, in home churches, without a permit.

This problem is widespread and very real. In fact changes in 2006 to a ministerial decree of 1969 that regulates the building of places of worship has not changed things that much; it is still very difficult to get a permit to build churches, so much so that many religious groups have had to practice their faith illegally. This in turn has provided Muslim fundamentalists with a good excuse to carry out violent attacks against home churches.

After getting an advance notice, the three Churches in Bekazi and their lawyers approached the appropriate authorities to suspend the demolition order. Their appeals fell on deaf ears.

For the past two weeks local Christian leaders have organised prayers meetings and protests to denounce what for them is a “discriminatory act.”

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