Two more churches in Indonesia‘s West Java province have been forcibly closed amid opposition and disputes over paperwork.
A large tent used for services by St Johannes Baptista Church in Bogor was sealed off by the authorities on 7 August. The congregation has been using the tent since 2006 as a temporary measure while the church awaits a permit for a proper building, which it applied for in 2000.
Dace Supriadi, head of the Bogor Public Order Agency, said that the congregation had been given a week to find an alternative place of worship, adding:
If they continue to use this tent, we will tear it down.
The church leader, Gatot Wotoseputro, said that he was perplexed as to why the authorities would now decide to seal off the tent but suspected that their action was linked to the growth of the congregation, which has reached around 500.
The church was told that the tent was not recognised as part of a house of worship and that there was local opposition to its presence. But Mr Wotoseputro said that neighbouring residents had never raised any objections.
The authorities denied that they had come under pressure from Islamic hardliners to take action against the church.
It follows the sealing off by protestors of Batak Karo Protestant Church (GBKP) in Bandung, West Java, on 29 July. They claimed that the congregation had agreed not to use the building for worship in an agreement signed in 2011.
The demonstrators hung a banner on the church’s gate that read:
We the people of RW 06 hardily reject the use of this building … for religious activities.
GBKP, which formed in 2007, said that they did sign the 2011 agreement but had since received all the required permits from the authorities allowing them to hold services.
St Johannes and GBKP are the latest churches in West Java to face harassment. GKI Yasmin has been under sustained pressure, chiefly from the mayor of Bogor, since 2008; the congregation was forced to hold services on the street outside its building after it was illegally sealed off by the authorities. The mayor recently agreed to allow the church to reopen, provided a mosque is built next door.
Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) has faced hostility and opposition from both the local authorities and Islamists for a number of years. It has been holding services outdoors and in homes since its building was sealed off by the authorities in January 2010 following three years of legal wrangling over a permit. In May, the congregation came under attack twice in four days by Islamists who threw bags of urine, sewage, oil, rotten eggs and stones at them.
Source: International Christian Concern, Barnabas Fund