03/26/2012 Indonesia (AsiaNews) – Indonesian Catholics are dismayed by the decision of Tokan Hulu Regency (Riau Province) to cancel the building permits for St Ignatius church. The site is now surrounded with barbed wire after it was seized on 21 March. Local Catholics see the decision as a patent violation of the principle of religious freedom, adding that their application to build the church was done by the book. Local authorities have countered that the site will be used for other purposes and that the local Muslim community no longer accepts the presence of a Christian place of worship
On 21 March, dozens of public officials from Rokan Hulu regency invaded the site where the St Ignatius Catholic Church was under construction, in the village of Sukamaju, Rambah Sub district, causing consternation among construction workers and parishioners, who quickly produced the right papers and permits.
In Indonesia, a building permit (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan) is needed for any construction. In case of Christian places of worship, 60 signatures from local Muslim residents are also required.
Fr Kus Aliandu Pr, the bishop’s secretary, confirmed that the “building committee had all the right papers,” plus “the signatures of 90 local Catholics and 60 non-Christians.” On 23 November 2010, the authorities gave construction the green light and the first brick was laid on 19 December 2011.
When the committee could not complete construction within the allotted time of five months, it applied for an extension on 6 August 2011. However, it received a negative answer on 2 January this year.
Now the authorities say the site where the church is under construction is slated for an agricultural research centre.
On 5 October 2011, some Muslim groups raised doubts about the authenticity of some of documents, claiming that some are fakes and that some signatures were falsified.
Riau Catholics can now expect a long legal battle to defend their right to religious freedom, very similar to the protracted battle undertaken by the Yasmin Protestant Church in Bogor.