West Java, Bekasi church demolished to gain Islamist consent ahead of elections
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Christian leaders are inviting the faithful to remain calm and avoid any "hostile" act that could exacerbate a delicate situation even more. However, tension is very high and violent episodes could exlode in response to the demolition of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestant (Hkbp) Setu Church in Bekasi, in the Indonesian province of West Java, the demolition of the building was carried out late yesterday evening despite the appeal of the community that took to the streets to defend the place of worship. The authorities did not want to listen to the arguments of the Christian minority, destroying - after a standoff that lasted months - a church used for over 13 years for weekend services.
For the Bekasi Regency administration, the demolition is legitimized because the church lacked the proper building permits, the infamous IMB (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan). The procedure for the construction of a church in Indonesia - Catholic or Protestant - is complicated and it can take five to ten years to obtain all permissions. The written resolution that allows the opening of a construction site is issued by the local authorities. The process is even more complicated if it is a place of Christian worship: permission for the construction of the building must gain the approval of a majority of local residents and the local group for Interreligious Dialogue. And often "unspecified reasons" come in to play that lead officials to halt projects, under pressure from radical Islamic movements.
The Protestant Church of Setu apparently
does not have the proper papers, although representatives of the Christian
community have repeatedly applied for the necessary authorizations without any
According to Hkbp Setu Church sources, yesterday's demolition - branded as "serious violation of religious freedom" - was motivated by "political opportunism". Episodes of tension and inter-faith attacks on the Christian minority are frequent in West Java, now the situation is being compounded by "electoral calculations" ahead of the upcoming regional vote for a new mayor. To gain the consensus of the Muslim majority nation, especially Islamic fundamentalists, politicians attack the rights and freedoms of minorities, especially Christians.
Pastor Leonard Nababan, head of Hkbp Bekasi, invites the faithful to remain calm and avoid any act of violence. At the same time, he promises to make "every necessary effors to defend the right to free practice of religion."
Now the attention of activists and observers will move to the GKI Yasmin Church in Bogor, West Java regency, which is also at risk of demolition like the one that took place in Bekasi.