EIGHT CHURCHES IN WEST JAVA CLOSED DURING WORSHIP SERVICES
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
(ANS) – The Christian human rights group, Jubilee Campaign, has stated that sources in Indonesia have informed them that the campaign by a radical Islamic group to close down Christian churches in the province of West Java has escalated in recent days.
A spokesperson for the group said, Members of the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI), an organization of Muslim clerics that receives 5 billion Rupees (nearly US$600,000) in support from the government of Indonesia , entered eight churches during worship services on Sunday, August 14, and ordered the churches closed. Sunday’s incident brings to 35 the number of West Java churches shut down since the MUI issued a series of eleven fatwas, or religious rulings, at the end of July.
Among other things, the fatwas condemned religious teachings influenced by pluralism, liberalism and secularism as against Islam, directed Muslims to consider Islam to be the one true religion and all other faiths to be wrong, forbade marriages between Muslims and adherents of other religions and denounced Muslims who prayed with persons from other traditions. Many observers see a connection between the issuing of the fatwas and the increase in church closures.
Their trial, which convenes for only two hours every Thursday, has been marred by loud and boisterous protests by radical Islamic elements both outside and inside the courtroom. The protestors have coached witnesses, called for the execution of the defendants and sought to intimidate the judges, openly threatening them if they fail to bring a guilty verdict. A
The court case is widely seen in the Indonesian Christian community as a test case which, if it results in a guilty verdict, will set a dangerous precedent. It is the first case to be tried under the Child Protection Act of 2003. If the three women are found guilty, any Christian working with Muslim children in any capacity anywhere in Indonesia could be liable to charges of Christianization. Others, however, see the case as a mere smokescreen to draw attention away
Jubilee Campaign says that Sunday’s church closings were the boldest step yet by the MUI. According to Colonel Andy Krisna, a retired police officer from Jakarta , local police, accompanied by a sizeable number of Islamic militants from the Front for the Defense of Islam (FDI), an arm of the MUI, barged into eight churches in Cimahi, West Java , interrupting the worship services. In each case, they marched to the front of the church, forced the pastor to sign a letter agreeing to the closure and made the members leave the premises. The churches affected included an Anglican, a Presbyterian, an Adventist, an Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal and three other Protestant congregations. Two days earlier, the MUI closed down a Tabernacle of David Church and a Christian-run Kindergarten in Turwakarta, and the previous week they targeted eight churches in Cileunyi for closure, said the spokesperson.
The justification for the closures, Krisna said, was that the churches did not have permits. A 1979 joint edict from the Indonesian government established regulations for the construction of religious buildings and prohibited religious meetings outside of approved buildings. The MUI has been invoking this Combined Ministerial Edict, or SKB, in its recent drive to close churches. In a bitterly ironic twist, however, the churches have not been able to obtain permits because of the activity of the MUI.
According to Indonesian church leaders, in order to get a building permit, churches must get the approval of their neighbors. In many cases, the Muslims in the community have no objections to the construction of a church, but when the permit requests are forwarded to the MUI, members of that organization visit the community members who signed the petition granting permission for church construction. In a Mafia-like move, MUI representatives tell the community leaders that the safety of their own homes and shops could not be guaranteed should the church building be burned down. This tactic is quite persuasive, and in most cases the community members withdraw their permission for the church to construct a building. Krisna and other observers believe that the closure of the churches is part of a broader campaign by the MUI to institute Sharia law in West Java and that the SKB is their preferred instrument for accomplishing that goal.
The power the MUI wields in West Java, and throughout Indonesia , is enormous. They receive five billion Rupia (nearly $600,000) in annual support from the government in Jakarta , and their influence is pervasive. When former Indonesian President Gus Dur recently wrote a letter to the police of Hargeulis, Indramayu, West Java , to protest the miscarriage of justice in the case of the three women, the response came not from the police but from the local MUI.
Jubilee Campaign says that it decries the contamination of justice in the Indramayu case and the closing of churches.
Of the court case, Jubilee Director Ann Buwalda said, “This legal precedent [in the event of a guilty verdict] will affect any religious minority and create chaos and discord nationwide for any Christian who happens to give out treats to children in a Christian neighborhood and a Muslim child happens to be among the recipients. It will erode the fabric of civility in the society, since any generosity can be construed as an ‘enticement’ and lead to the jailing and conviction of the Christian giver.”
Buwalda further stated, “The prosecution of the three women has emboldened the Islamists. A guilty verdict threatens freedom of assembly and freedom of religion and even the act of being nice to someone of another religious faith.”
She declared that the Indonesian government needs to be pressured to refuse further funding to the MUI as long as they pursue policies that restrict the human and civil rights of religious minorities.
The group has asked Christians around the world to continue to pray for the three women–Dr. Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun. They have been in prison since May 16, and the trial will run at least until the end of August. If they are convicted, they face sentences of up to three years. Furthermore, we have received reports that some of the prison guards have been sexually harassing the women, offering them better treatment in exchange for sexual favors.