Indonesia Church Officials Face Violence, Jail Time for Conducting Services

By webadmin on 08:53 am Feb 14, 2013
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Rebecca Lake, Sandra Siagian & Abdul Qowi Bastian

The wife of a church minister who was jailed two weeks ago for allegedly conducting a service without a permit also faces arrest for defying an order from local authorities to stop holding services at a church in Sumedang, West Java.

Minister Bernhard Maukar and his wife, Corry, were holding a service at their Pentecostal church (GPdI) in Mekargalih village, Jatinangor subdistrict, on Jan. 27, when it was attacked by members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who claimed that the church did not have a valid permit to operate.

CCTV footage obtained by the Jakarta Globe shows details of the attack where a gang of about 50 members from the hard-line organization scaled the gates of the religious facility, caused havoc and destruction within the place of worship and physically threatened the minister — at one point using Bernhard’s necktie to strangle him.

Bernhard was arrested by officials from the Sumedang Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) two days later for continuing to hold services without a valid permit, which breaks a 2005 local government law.

The minister is currently serving a three-month sentence at the Sumedang prison as he could not pay the Rp 25 million ($2,600) fine ordered by the district court.

Corry said this is the third major act of violence the FPI has inflicted upon them in the past two years.

The grandmother explained that the latest attack on the church, which has been running for 26 years, had significantly traumatized the 400-member congregation, many of whom are now too afraid to return.

The FPI did not respond to the Globe’s request for comments.

The arrest and imprisonment of the priest, and the final warning delivered to his wife on Tuesday, comes after countless attempts by the church to obtain the permit required to continue offering services to its congregation.

According to Corry, the church has applied for the permit and has invested a large amount of funds in the process. However, Arief Saefulloh, the Mekargalih village chief who oversees the approval of permits, claims to have lost the paperwork, Corry explained.

When the Globe contacted Arief, he reiterated that the church in question should not be considered a house of worship.

“This is not a church, this is a house that is being used as a church,” Arief said.

Under the 2006 joint ministerial decree, Article 28 stipulates that local leaders must help facilitate the process to obtain a permit for a house of worship.

Meanwhile, Article 14 states that the religious organization requires formal support from at least 60 people from the local community.

While Corry said that the community in general supports the church, she believes that many locals are intimidated by the FPI.

However, Arief claims that the local community is not behind the church.

Hafiz Utsman, the head of the West Java chapter of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), the country’s highest Islamic authority, said the organization does not encourage violent attacks.

“Of course we do not condone [violent attacks],” Hafiz said, adding that he was not aware of the recent attack against Bernhard’s church or of his imprisonment.

“If there is a church without a permit then it’s not our concern, it’s the [legal] authorities’ concern.”

According to Human Rights Watch, which will be releasing a three-year study on religious intolerance at the end of this month, these types of inter-religious conflicts have been significantly increasing, especially on the island of Java.

Andreas Harsono, the Indonesia researcher for HRW, says the solution to such cases of violence lies in the hands of Indonesia’s government and the country’s lawmakers.

“The short-term solution [to the conflict] is that the government should impose a zero-tolerance policy against violence in the name of religion,” Andreas said.

However, according to the activist, the government has continued to ignore the issue and has failed to “respect of the rule of law in Indonesia.”