02/11/2020, 18.15
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Karimun: Islamists trying to stop work on St Joseph's Church

by Mathias Hariyadi

The local Catholic community has all the necessary permits to tear down the existing church and build a new, larger one. Muslim extremists are using spurious arguments and spreading baseless information to stop it. On 6 February, an Islamist protest turned into an attack.


Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Islamic radicals are using threats, intimidation and attacks in an attempt to stop the construction of a new church dedicated to Saint Joseph in Karimun, in remote Karimun Regency, Riau Islands province (between Sumatra and peninsular Malaysia).

The local Catholic community, which has all the right permits, wants to tear down their old church (erected in 1928) to build a new larger structure to accommodate more worshippers.

The issue has been controversial since 2013, but took a turn for the worst in the past few days after work started with the demolition of the most dilapidated parts of the structure.

In an attempt to stop Catholics, local Islamist groups have used spurious arguments and spread baseless information.

One of their claims is that the bell tower will be taller than the home of the district chief, something the parish priest, Fr Kristiono, has refuted several times. Another one says that new church will cause traffic problems even though all religious activities will be indoors. Last but not least, Islamists are now asserting that the church is ancient and cannot be torn down, this despite the fact that it is of “no historic interest” to the authorities.

On 6 February, tensions boiled over when scores of Muslim extremists held a protest outside the church. Fr Kristiono tried to calm them down despite the insults hurled at him and the damages caused to the external fences.

Some extremists even tried to storm the building, whilst e mob went after church spokesman Ramesko Purba, urging police to seize him and the priest and take them to the local police station.

Speaking from a "safe place,” Purba told AsiaNews that he had received several threats. One of the charges against him is that he is an "immigrant" who came to Karimun to sow discord and intolerance. Some Islamists have warned him to leave the regency.

The case has found an echo on social media, where many have expressed solidarity with Purba, including Muslims. Many have advised him to stay calm and resist pressure.

Under Indonesian law, building requires a permit (IMB[*]).  On this account, “We have followed all legal and administrative procedures. We have every permit, including the IMB,” said Fr Kristiono.

Faced with Islamist protests, local authorities asked the parish priest back in October to halt work for three months to ease tensions. “The waiting period expired in January, so we decided to start work," the priest said.

In a latest twist that surprised the Catholic community, Islamists have come up with a last-minute proposal: moving the church. For Fr Kristiono this is impossible.

“We obviously rejected a similar idea,” he said. “The move would effectively stop the project.” In fact, it would mean starting again the whole process of getting permits.

For Fr Kristiono, “getting the signatures of residents who accept the construction of a church in a location is practically impossible for minorities. In light of all this, all we can do is ignore the idea.”

[*] Izin Mendirikan Bangunan.

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