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Compass Direct (05/02/06) – Radical Muslims in mid-April forced three churches to cease services in North Jakarta and the provinces of West Java and Tangerang, claiming the meetings were disturbing Islamic communities.

On April 17, a group of approximately 150 people claiming to represent the neighboring community paid a visit to the Shining Christian Church in West Semper, Clincing sub-district, North Jakarta . They bullied Pastor Yoshua Sugiharto into ceasing worship activities underway in the building since 2001.

The mob also presented a letter from West Semper authorities dated April 12 asking the church to cease worship services, and listing complaints from people in the neighborhood. These complaints included religious activities being carried out in a residential building; attendance of church members who did not live in the immediate neighborhood; and operation of a church in a Muslim-majority area.

Church members protested that they were officially registered with West Semper authorities, under Registration No. 133/1/824/VIII/2005. The church was established in West Semper when there were only a few houses, and although a majority Muslim neighborhood grew up around them, there were no problems until 2005.

Shining Christian Church was established by the Lazaria Light Foundation. The Foundation also established a kindergarten for low-income families in January, and provides free medical care, food and a fostering program for at-risk children.

Nevertheless, the mob said they would call on the Front Pembela Islam (FPI or Islamic Defenders Front) and the Madura Society of Jakarta to close down the church if their demands were ignored. The two groups are known to be radical and confrontational.

Church members and protesters were called to a meeting in council offices on April 18 to resolve the dispute. The neighbors insisted that the church permanently cease their activities.

Mobs Halt Catholic Services

Meanwhile, police asked the St. Clara Catholic Church in North Bekasi district, West Java province, not to hold a Good Friday worship service on April 14 after the FPI and another local Muslim group threatened to disrupt it.

The church, whose building was still under construction, had planned to hold the service in a tent on a plot of land owned by the parish. Negotiations with the police failed, however, and church officials had to hold the worship service in another location some distance away.

On the night of April 14, some 300 people arrived at the tent site to make sure the tent had been dismantled and the worship service canceled. Several eyewitnesses said the protestors were armed with chopping knives and other pointed tools.

A mob of some 500 Muslims also forced the Ciledug Catholic church, meeting in a residential building in the Regensi Bintaro Ciledug housing complex in Tangerang province, to cease services. Some 3,000 church members are now meeting in rented premises in an office block, but this arrangement is likely to be temporary.

Local authorities had given permission for the church to hold services, but an official building permit was still being processed.

The mob claimed they did not want a church in their neighborhood, but church members said many who took part in the protest were strangers who did not live in the immediate vicinity of the church.