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3/21/11 Indonesia (JakartaGlobe) –  Some 100 members of a Christian congregation conducted services on the sidewalk in Bogor Sunday after police prevented them from using a contested church site that has been sealed off by city officials in defiance of a Supreme Court order.

Some 500 personnel, including Mobile Brigade (Brimob) officers and soldiers, cordoned off an area around the sealed Taman Yasmin Church, which is under construction by the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI).

“We do not want to be caught unaware and therefore we have been forced to block off Jalan Abdullah bin Nuh,” Bogor Police Chief Adj. Snr. Comr. Nugroho Slamet Wibowo said, referring to the street the church is on.

Despite a Supreme Court order in January for municipal authorities to reopen the site, the Bogor administration has continued to ignore the verdict, arguing it wants to avoid sparking a conflict.

Although a building permit was issued in 2006, the GKI Yasmin church site was sealed by the city in March 2010 due to opposition to the construction. Hard-line Muslim groups have alleged some of the signatures needed from neighboring residents to secure the building permit were falsified.

However, Nugroho said the police presence was only to maintain security and not to prevent the group from worshiping.

“We are only the security side. We are not involving ourselves in the substance of the dispute,” he said.

Because of the cordon, members of GKI Yasmin held their service on the sidewalk some 100 meters from the site under a strong security presence.

The hour-long service was led by Rev. Gomar Gultom, secretary general of the Protestant Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI). He was assisted by the Rev. Emi Sahertian, from the National Alliance of Bhineka Tunggal Ika, and GKI Yasmin’s reverend, Suryadi.

“This service is being held here because we feel we should be allowed to conduct our worship in the proper place,” said Doriana, a member of the congregation who attended the service.

Bona Sigalingging, a spokesman for GKI Yasmin, said the group was planning to report the dispute to the Special UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief over the Bogor administration’s noncompliance with the Supreme Court ruling.

He also said the congregation would reject the administration’s offer to purchase the church site and build it at another location.

“Just from this case we can see how difficult it is to build a place of worship,” he said. “How much harder would it be if we had to start from scratch? The process will, of course, be very long.”

Bona said the congregation’s members, all of whom were from the Bogor area, were not keen to travel far to worship.

Gomar, meanwhile, said the PGI had supported the congregation by writing letters to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Minister of Home Affairs Gamawan Fauzi and the Bogor administration over the church issue. So far, however, he said there had been no response.

Gomar urged the government to protect the right to worship for all minority religions. “Worshiping is a fundamental right of every human being and, of course, cannot be prohibited,” he said.

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