Indonesian Islamists Threaten to Tear Down Church
Muslim extremists and local government authorities last week threatened to tear down a church building under construction in North Sumatra even though church leaders met requirements of Indonesia’s draconian law on worship places, the church’s pastor said.
05/06/08 JAKARTA (Compass Direct News) – Muslim extremists and local government authorities last week threatened to tear down a church building under construction in North Sumatra even though church leaders met requirements of Indonesia’s draconian law on worship places, the church’s pastor said.
Emboldened by local authorities’ unwillingness to grant a church building permit to Protestant Bataks Christian Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan, or HKBP), some 100 Muslim extremists accompanied by government officials on April 29 tried to destroy the building under construction in Jati Makmur village, North Binjai, 22 kilometers (14 miles) from the provincial capital of Medan.
The Rev. Monang Silaban, HKBP pastor, said about 100 members of the Islamic extremist Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defender Front, or FPI), some armed with “sharp weapons,” arrived at 4:30 p.m. accompanied by Binjai municipal officials, who brought a bulldozer. Church members quickly gathered to defend the building, with women anxiously crying, “Please God protect us.”
The groups nearly came to blows in the rain as some Islamic extremists made their way into the structure, which was about 40 percent completed. Brigadir Mobil (Brimob) security forces and Binjai reserve police arrived and were able to bring calm, with the mob eventually calling off the assault.
Binjai officials have been unwilling to grant HKBP a permit even though it has complied with recent government regulations requiring it to provide information on 90 adult members and the written consent of 60 neighbors. Rev. Silaban said the church had provided the required information on 90 church members and collected 69 signatures of area residents giving their consent for the church building.
A Joint Ministerial Decree issued in 1969 and revised in 2006 requires an official permit for any place of worship – whether Muslim, Christian or otherwise – operating throughout Indonesia. The requirements of the revised decree – 90 adult members and 60 neighbors’ written consent – leave many small Christian churches easy targets for Islamic radicals and hostile local governments, but the Jati Makmur’s HKBP is one of the few Indonesian churches actually able to comply with it.
Police met with church and Muslim extremist group leaders following the confrontation and reached an agreement that construction on the building would cease until the permit is approved – something that hasn’t happened in the two years since HKBP applied.
At the meeting, held at the mayor’s office in Binjai, G.T. Siregar, a member of the church construction committee, complained that officials have obstructed efforts to obtain permission to construct the church building.
“We’re tired of trying to obtain the permit, because it always fails,” he said. “The local government actually has to grant us the permit, because we have done as the revised decree has asked.”