11/24/2015, 00.00
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Jakarta wants to reform the law on places of worship, fewer restrictions on building permits

by Mathias Hariyadi
The Indonesian government is considering a modification of the infamous IMB, a source of abuse and religious freedom violations in the past. The ministers of the Interior and Religious Affairs are ready to delete the passage concerning the collection of signatures. Praise and support from NGOs and moderate Muslim groups.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The reformist government of President Joko "jokowi" Widodo intends to address one of the most controversial issues on the subject of religious freedom in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world: the construction of places of worship. A sensitive issue, a source of controversy between faiths and battles of minorities, particularly Christians, who have denounced limits and restrictions, or even cases of abuse relating to the procedure on several occasions in the past. A year after its rise to power, the government seems willing to follow the path of dialogue and harmony among faiths, and lessen restrictions  on the  construction of religious buildings.

The discussion centers on the infamous IMB (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan), the 2006 regulation for the construction (or renovation) of buildings in the archipelago, with a particular attention to places of worship. According to the joint order - Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Interior - now in force, projects must have the signature of at least 99 worshipers and be supported by at least 60 signatories from among local residents, and be approved by the village chief, to receive authorization.

Over time the permit to build, renovate, rebuild a chapel, a church, a house of prayer has become a crucial issue for fanatics who have railed and protested, effectively blocking projects already underway or under study.

The most emblematic case is that of the GKI Yasmin Church in Bogor (West Java). To date the Protestant Christians do not have access and cannot use the site of their property. In protest, they hold their functions outdoors and on more than one occasion celebrated in protest in front of the presidential palace, with both the current and previous administration. In the past, the former head of state Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has promised to resolve the issue, but he never wanted to intervene for fear of antagonizing the Islamic fundamentalist wing .

Recently, therefore, the question of the law on places of worship has returned to current events and is now on the table of the heads of departments concerned, as well as security officials and the Indonesian judiciary. The interior ministers Tjahjo Kumolo confirms that recent controversial cases in Aceh and Papua have prompted the government to address the issue. "It is my personal opinion - he added - that the section on the collection of signatures should be reduced in number, if not eliminated."

Official sources said that the results of the meetings between the ministers of the Interior and Religious Affairs will be presented at a later date to the chief of  Legal Affairs and Security, for final approval; this act will be the prelude to the final entry into force. The proposed reforms have been approved by religious groups and organizations in Indonesia, even Muslim. The female leader Alif, of the Fahmina Institute, states that "any discriminatory rule" against religious minorities "should be reviewed", such as the longstanding unresolved issues similar to that of the Yasmin Church.

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