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Embattled Indonesian Christians Seek Protection

ICC Note:

Christians in Indonesia find them selves trapped between constitutional freedoms, and actual legislation as seven home churches are forced to discontinue a worship service due to Islamic protests.

12/13/2010 Indonesia (AFP) — Indonesian Christians appealed to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for protection on Monday after Muslim vigilante groups, backed by police, surrounded their homes and forced them to leave.

More than 100 members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) were forced to evacuate seven houses in Rancaekek Wetan village outside Jakarta on Sunday as Muslims staged angry protests over unauthorised religious services.

The Christians say they have been forced to hold services inside their homes because the local government has repeatedly knocked back and ignored requests to approve a church or authorise another venue for their place of worship.

The protesters included members of violent Islamist vigilante groups that have close ties to the security forces in the Muslim-majority country.

"The situation was quite tense yesterday. If we didn't ask them (the Christians) to leave, there would have been bad consequences. We tried to avoid any destruction or physical attacks," local police chief Hendro Pandowo said.

"They don't have any permit to use the houses as places of worship. We can't arrest (the Muslims) as they got a permit to hold the protest."

He added: "If the place was legally designated as a church, we'd provide security protection. Otherwise, we can't do much as it's against the law."

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Although the constitution gives an equal footing to six state religions including Protestantism, laws make it difficult for faiths other than Islam to establish houses of worship.

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