Local Police Complicit in Obstructing an Indonesian Church’s Construction

By ICC’s Indonesia Correspondent

05/02/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)Although a constitutional right in the Republic of Indonesia guarantees the freedom to embrace and practice worship according to each citizen’s religious convictions, Indonesian security officials sometimes obstruct religious freedom through Building Permit (IMB) disputes, ignoring the fact that the government should be the protector and unifier of its people. The fact is, for minority religious groups, not only do they have to defend themselves against the intolerant majority religious groups, but they must also defend themselves from the police. The Civil Service Police Unit (SATPOL), in the case of Indonesian Baptist Church (GBI) Tlogosari, was involved with intolerant groups by blocking minority citizens from worshipping.

In Semarang, Central Java, GBI Tlogosari led by Pastor Wahyudi has seen many protests in its development to build a church building. The church has owned a building permit since 1998, though due to funding shortages, the construction stagnated. When funding was no longer an obstacle, the construction resumed on August 1, 2019. Protests followed almost immediately after the construction started, directed by community groups that wished to make the government revoke the church’s IMB and stop construction.

“In order to maintain security in the community, we have temporarily stopped development and tried to take a friendly approach to find a solution to this problem by obeying all the existing regulations. From the government side, the mayor of Semarang facilitated our meeting with those who rejected us. We have held two meetings on August 6, 2019, and September 18, 2019,” said the pastor.

He added, “At this second meeting, we were offered three alternatives by the Mayor of Semarang: 1. Willing to be relocated. The government will provide another location for the construction of church buildings. 2. The Social Approach, which will be facilitated by the Forum of Harmony Between Religious Community (FKUB) Semarang. 3. Settlement of cases through the court, so construction continues, and those who rejected our IMB can bring the case to court.”

After a month of deliberation between church elders, the pastor decided to pursue the third option: court settlement. The opponents brought the matter to court, while construction of the church building continued. At one point, Pastor Wahyudi wrote a letter to the court and the mayor’s staff to inquire about the progress of the lawsuit. The result was that the lawsuit was indeed filed by the opponents of the church construction. Yet, in the meantime, the opponents also approached the mayor’s staff to ask them to revoke the IMB in private. Knowing that a lawsuit has been filed, the mayor’s staff refused to revoke the IMB.

What was even more upsetting was the fact that the Civil Service Police Unit (SATPOL), together with community groups that intimidated the church, also intimidated the construction workers on-site and the store that was providing the building materials. Pastor Wahyudi was also terrorized by several phone calls demanding him to stop building the church.

Pastor Wahyudi felt like he was struggling alone in his fight for his constitutional rights. The churches around him seemed to close their eyes to his struggles. The pastor said, “I could certainly have followed the demands of this group of people who refused to let us build our church. But that would have set a bad precedent in the future for other small churches like us, who plan to build their church buildings one day.” When GBI Tlogosari suddenly received full support from the Semarang Legal Aid Society (LBH), who offered to fight with them, the church felt a sense of hope. It was especially touching because LBH is a Muslim group. “There is certainly sincerity in their support,” Pastor Wahyudi told International Christian Concern (ICC).

As recent as mid-April, the LBH attorney for GBI Tlogosari sent a subpoena to Semarang SATPOL, since on April 15, 2020, dozens of SATPOL occupied the GBI Tlogosari church building construction site again and intimidated the workers so they could not continue working. Even though the public knows that GBI Tlogosari has fulfilled the requirements for licensing the church’s construction, in accordance to the provisions of the applicable laws and regulations, intolerant groups still work with law enforcement to threaten the church.

This is the second occasion the SATPOL has abused its power. Therefore, GBI Tlogosari’s legal advisor assessed that the Semarang City Civil Service Police Unit acted against the law and would take all legal steps if the police continue to in any way to inhibit the construction of the GBI Tlogosari.

Semarang Legal Aid demands:

  • Semarang City Service Police Unit to stop all forms of efforts to obstruct the Construction of GBI Tlogosari church building;
  • The Mayor of Semarang to firmly protect the rights of the congregation of GBI Tlogosari so they can build their church according to the Principle Permit and Building Permit (IMB) that has been owned.

As GBI Tlogosari continues to face the ongoing lawsuit, Pastor Wahyudi shared two main prayer requests with ICC:

  • Please pray that even in the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue our construction with the remaining materials so that the materials would not be damaged. We will also reduce the number of workers at work, as recommended at this time so that there are no gatherings of people.
  • Pray also for our relationship with LBH Semarang, the group that helps us, so that this problem can be swiftly resolved.

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