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AsiaNews (01/10/06) – Building permits for places of worship will entail shorter waiting periods and easier formalities and should not take more than six months to be issued, this according to Indonesia ’s Interior Ministry, which is revising the 1969 joint ministerial decree (SKB No 1/1969) on the matter.

The decree itself says that any religious community that wants to build a place of worship must get a permit from local authorities and residents. Hitherto such permits were hard to come by and many a request simply fell on deaf ears. Many worshipers were thus forced to practice their faith under almost clandestine conditions.

After long talks with religious leaders from different communities and with officials from the national government and police, the Interior Ministry announced that red tape for building permits should take no longer than six months with permits issued within 7 to 30 days.

Henceforth, permits shall be issued by local government representatives after canvassing opinions among local community groups such as the Inter-faith Religious Forum as well as the officials from the Religious Affairs Ministry.

Sudarsono Hardosoekarto, from the General Directorate of People’s Unity and Political Affairs in the Interior Ministry, said that changes to the SKB No 1/1969 decree are underway and should “be submitted to the president within the prescribed timeframe.”

Such changes have become urgent after recent incidents involving Islamic extremists who forcibly shut down churches in the province of West Java . Local Christians also received threats and were victims of acts of intimidation.

According to John Simon Timorason, chairman of the Communication Forum of West Java Churches, some 35 churches were closed down in 2005 as a result of actions by hard-line Muslims. Although they lacked permits under SKB No 1/1969, the West Java Religious Affairs Office had issued these churches operational licenses.