03/13/2012, 00.00
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Yasmin Church members stage peaceful protest in front of Yudhoyono's residence

by Mathias Hariyadi
Arts and crafts by the children of the protestant community are put on display in order to sway the president in their favour. Christians stress their affiliation with the "multiethnic nation". Important Christian and Muslim leaders join the rally, including a younger sister of former President Gus Dur.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A group of some 60 members of the Yasmin Church on Sunday staged a peaceful demonstration in front of the Merdeka Palace, residence of the Indonesian president, to remind the current office holder, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, of the principle of freedom of religion and worship. As part of their initiative, they set up stalls showing arts and craft made by children.

The Yasmin Church community in Bogor (West Java) has been in row for a long time with local authorities who forcibly shut down their church. By staging a peaceful protest, Church members want to win the president over to their cause and convince him to change attitudes on the matter.

Despite a ruling by the Supreme Court in favour of the Christians, Mr Yudhoyono has refused to take a stance in the controversial matter that pits Christians against Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto and Muslim extremists.

In a press release, the Yasmin Church members called on the president "to come out to see what our children have made to see how pure they are. We teach them positive values so that they can be honest citizens and respect others," Christian leaders said.

In their statements, parents want to see their children become "good adults who show respect for others and love the multiethnic nation that is Indonesia."

As a final point on behalf of the children, the representatives of the Yasmin Church asked, "Why must we pray in the street like travellers instead of using the church" as ruled by the judges of the Supreme Court?

Bondan Gunawan, former state secretary under President Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, joined the peaceful rally. Dozens of human rights activists, including the younger sister of the former president, were also present.

The president of the World Council of Churches, Rev Soritua A E Nabadan, expressed his "full solidarity" with the Yasmin Church members. Speaking to AsiaNews, a spokesman for the Yasmin Church said that for Rev Nabadan, the Church's fight "is an example of the struggle for social justice in the country" and that he hopes to "see an end to all forms of discrimination."  

For months, the Yasmin Protestant Church has been the victim of the local mayor, Diani Budiarto, who has disregarded a Supreme Court decision in favour of Christians. By preventing them from worshipping in their church, he has violated their right to religious freedom.

Even though the building meets all the legal and practical requirements needed for places of worship, the mayor in October deployed security forces to stop worshippers from using the venue for religious services. In addition, he has prevented them from worshipping in the street as well.

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