09/26/2006, 00.00
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West Java: Muslim extremists continue to attack churches

A crowd of fundamentalists attacked a church near Bandung. They were stopped by police but threatened to return. A new decree on the construction of places of worship does not seem to have improved the difficult plight of Christians.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – On 24 September around 50 people attacked and tried to destroy a church in the Indonesian province of West Java. Here, dozens of churches and other places of worship come under constant threat of violence by Islamic extremists or of closure for lack of legal permits, denied on purpose.

The crowd of extremists gathered around 9am at a nearby mosque and marched on Yayasan Penginjilan Roti Kehidupan Church in Arjasari village, 20km south of Bandung, ostensibly because it was used by Christians for "illegal" prayer meetings. When the church administrator refused to close it, the group started to demolish the roof, stopping only when police intervened. Bandung Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Suparman invited the crowd to be "patient", saying only local authorities were allowed to close down a place of worship; no further action has been taken thus far. The mob dispersed but threatened to return to "finish their work" if the church continued its activities. Local sources said the protest was fomented by the Anti-Apostasy Division of the Islamic Ulema Forum run by Suryana Nur Fatwama.

Faidin, a local neighbourhood official in charge of spiritual affairs, said the church had already been "closed" for a year following similar incidents. "It has a congregation of only seven members, including two residents from the local village, who recently converted to Christianity," Faidin said. "We are disturbed by their presence and worried if they spread their teachings among local residents who are nearly 100% Muslim."

According to the Forum of Communications of Churches of West Java, fundamentalists closed down 35 home churches in 2005. The alarming figure prompted a revision of a 1969 ministerial decree (SKB No1/1969) that regulates the construction of places of worship. The problems involved in obtaining permits to build often force faith communities to practice their faith in illegal conditions.

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