Another Church Faces Closure Amid Hard-Line Protest in West Java

Jakarta. A West Java court threw out a Bekasi government-issued building permit for a Catholic church on Thursday, ruling that the church congregation failed to openly advertise the long-planned construction in the latest instance of a public institution cowing to pressure from hard-line Islamists in this Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) stronghold.

“The church considers it invalid because the church only informed people door to door, not openly,” said attorney Uli Parulian Sihombing, who represented the Stanislaus Kostka Catholic church.

The congregation began the lengthy process of securing a building permit in 2005 to construct a church for the nearly 500 Catholic families living in the immediate area. The church members walked the streets of Kranggan, Bekasi, gathering the 60 signatures needed from local residents before submitting the paperwork to the Bekasi district government. The signatures were reportedly verified by the local urban ward office.

The congregation received the support of the Interfaith Harmony Forum (FKUB) and the local branch of the Ministry of Religious Affairs as it prepared the necessary documents. By November of 2012, the local administration issued the building permit, giving the congregation the green light to begin construction.

Some five months later, the congregation broke ground in a ceremony that was attended by Bekasi District Mayor Rahmat Effendi. The work continued for several months until the local Islamic Peoples Forum (FUI) — a hard-line group that routinely campaigns against non-Sunni Muslim houses of worship in West Java — mounted a protest against the Catholic church.

The paperwork, the hard-line Islamists argued, was invalid because the signatures were allegedly fake. The group urged the local administration to renege on the building permit, staging noisy protests outside the building’s gates with the notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) – an organization implicated in violent attacks on houses of worship and people engaged in activities deemed haram by the hard-liners.

Some Islamist groups have enveloped themselves in a war of attrition on the institutions of religious minorities in West Java, rampaging through offending mosques and holding unruly protests with the tacit support of West Java Governor Ahmad Heraywan’s administration. The most successful tool in the hard-liner’s arsenal, a government regulation requiring all religious institutions obtain a building permit before construction, has been used to shutter dozens of churches in Indonesia despite reports highlighting that mosques broke that rule more frequently than the country’s churches.

The Bandung Administrative Court ruled in the FUI’s favor in this most recent case, revoking the Catholic church’s building permit on the grounds that the congregation had failed to adequately advertise their planned construction project. The attorney for Stanislaus Kostka accused the court of siding with the hard-liner group, explaining that the Catholic community was open about their intentions to build a church. There is no regulation in Indonesia requiring additional steps beyond the initial 60 signatures for a building permit, Uli said.

“Even the urban ward [chief] informed the residents about the church construction,” he said. “The judge’s opinion is strange. I guess they just made it to please the plaintiffs.”

The court, in its ruling, said the church had not faked any of the signatures submitted to the local administration. Furthermore, four residents who came forward in support of the FUI, saying that their signatures had been forged by church officials, had all lied, the court ruled. One judge, Nelvy Christin, ruled in favor of the Catholic church, deciding that the congregation had fulfilled all the necessary requirements. But in the end, the administrative court declared the building permit invalid. 

The ruling, Uli said, has left the church community scratching their heads. It is unknown if construction of the building should stop, or how the Catholic church could meet the new mandate of openly advertising the project.

“So, again, the decision only stated that the decision to issue the permit was invalid,” Uli said. “It did not say whether the permit was revoked or whether the construction should be terminated.

“What is even more strange is that the ruling could not be implemented, as all of the judges rejected the request of the plaintiff to suspend the church’s construction. It’s a confusing decision.”

The church plans to appeal the case to a higher court.

  • masmon2

    About time all those thousands of illegal mosques also had the proper permits..

    When will this all end…

  • Greenbug

    Just simple religious persecutions – officially sanctioned by the SBY administration and his ruling coalition – the entire world knows that…

  • Good,Bad and Ugly

    First, arrest and charge the terrorists for public disorder, creating stress and disharmony in the community, and creating hatred, ie the Islamist Jerks Forum.

  • Valkyrie1604

    Observe that this often occur in West Java.

  • human2

    If going door to door is not openly telling locals of their plans to open a church then what the hell is? It seems what these close minded bigots want is for any church that wants to open advertise in the newspaper they can gather extremists from all over Jakarta to deny these people their right to pray. I came here with an open mind and truly thought all religions at their core were about being the best person you can be sadly that has changed for me after living here more than a decade…. Sad reading article after article about the hate and insecurity surrounding the majority here it really is….

  • jericho40

    There is not freedom of religion in Indonesia. “They went door to door, but they did not announce openly”. What BS. All Christian Chinese factories should move their factories and jobs and money to a country that has freedom of religion. The others religion is afraid because the Christian community is growing so fast.

  • billy

    i think the case should be taken to high court!!!
    there has been enough of this pathetic behaviour in indonesia…
    if the muslims want christians out, then lets get it over with fast… IN COURT!!!!
    learnt to bloody live together like good children do!!!

    • mrlogic

      You have just seen what the courts do Billy.

  • weegie-boy

    As human2 rightly points out below, this country is slowly but surely changing for the worst when it comes to religion. In the same decade that I have been living here now, the noise from the mosques has increased to the point where I have no time for the religion anymore. When I first came to this country, I was surprised to find that the vast majority of Muslims living here were nice people and not the fanatical radicals I heard about or believed they were. Now though, I have no time for any of them after having to put up with the 4am noise and the almost constant daytime wailing that goes on around this place from all the mosques that have sprung up. Why do they need a mosque every 100m or so and yet 1 little church scares the hell out of them?

    • Adi

      Because: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

      • what.the.@#$%

        To battle intolerable religious intolerance with a retort of religious opposition is to antagonise the battle into a war. This war is not against religions, but against the corruption and stupidity within the government and judiciary. It is law, the rule of law, and the defence of law and constitution that will bring education and tolerance to Indonesia.

  • Blade

    Court rulings means nothing so it will be ignored

  • Bing

    Violence, intimidation, fear, lies, poverty, and ignorance, these are the tools that Islam uses in Indonesia to keep the numbers up. Without these controls the percentage would drop radically. This pretty much applies across the world also.

  • gyorotonic

    Nothing is worthy of respect when it violates the basic human individual rights; some of them don’t realize how it feels to be treated as the minority & are acting like oppressors, unjustly to a minority.