Hundreds of Christians Left Churchless as Indonesian Authorities Tear Down Worship Center

Observers Call Demolition an “Act of Barbarism”

12/06/2013 Indonesia (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has just learned that district authorities in Sulawesi, Indonesia began demolishing the South Sulawesi Christian Church on Wednesday after the local government issued an injunction ordering the members to completely halt all worship services late last week. The demolition of the protestant church is being called an “act of barbarism” and an example of “zero tolerance” towards religious minorities by Indonesian human rights observers. By Friday morning, authorities were still in the process of dismantling the church.

According to regional news sources, church members responded to the demolition with “a mixture of dismay and disappointment,” calling the authorities’ decision “nonsense.” The church is reportedly the only place of worship for hundreds of Christians in the Pangkep District of South Sulawesi.

Problems for the church reportedly began in 2011 after the church was forced to apply for a permit to repair its leaking roof. Local authorities responded by demanding the church obtain 60 signatures from Muslim residents giving the church permission to repair the roof.  Arruan Lenden, a leader of the South Sulawesi Christian Church, said, “We have no problem with the residents, but they only gave us a verbal permit. They refused to sign because they did not want to bear the consequences later.”

On Friday, Arraun told the Jakarta Globe that the building had become a church in 1989 and was not required to obtain a permit because “it was made of wood.” In 2006, the Indonesian Religious Affairs Ministry issued a “Joint Decree on Houses of Worship” revising building permit requirements for religious structures. The law has been widely abused by radical Islamic groups, including the Islamic Defenders Front, who cite the decree as justification for conducting often violent protests outside places of worship. Local governments respond by sealing the places of worship shut.

In 2012, ICC recorded 50 such forced church closures across Indonesia. To date, the law has never reportedly been used as justification to halt construction, seal off, or forcibly demolition a Sunni Islam place of worship.

Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said, “We had been extremely hopeful that this kind of flagrant disregard for the rights of religious minorities was on the decline in Indonesia in 2013, at least as far as the Christian community was concerned. This demolition, however, coming alongside reports that two other churches have recently been sealed, is quickly dashing those hopes. We call on President Yudhoyono to speak out immediately and strongly against what is clearly a discriminatory abuse of the 2006 Revised Joint Ministerial Decree on construction of houses of worship.”

For interviews, please contact Ryan Morgan at rm-seasia@persecution.org

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