Christians in Indonesian City Reject New Site to Replace Shuttered Church

Tria Dianti
Christians in Indonesian City Reject New Site to Replace Shuttered Church A police officer guards a church ahead of Christmas Mass in Jakarta, Dec. 24, 2020.
[Antara photo via Reuters]

Some members of a church shuttered by authorities in an Indonesian city in 2008 after locals opposed it are insisting the church be reopened, their spokesman said, after the mayor allowed them to build a new house of worship elsewhere.

Human rights groups have cited the controversy surrounding the GKI Yasmin church in Bogor, just south of Jakarta, as an example of growing intolerance in Indonesia. The Christian minority in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country represents about 11 percent of the population.

Mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto should respect a 2010 Supreme Court ruling allowing members to use the old church building – whose unfinished construction site is sealed off nowadays – and the government must to do more to protect religious minorities from intolerant groups, said Bona Sigalingging, the congregation’s spokesman.

“We will not accept, no matter how much real estate we are given, because doing so will set a bad precedent,” Bona told BenarNews.

“Bima Arya should have obeyed the Supreme Court’s decision to reopen our church, instead of giving us land for a new church. We fear that if there is a similar case, the Yasmin case will be used as a template for [future] settlements.”

After the city administration in 2008 withdrew the original building permit for the church amid pressure from residents, the State Administrative Court overturned that decision. Then in 2010, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Bogor administration, citing technicalities.

The church had been half built – and still stands – when the building permit was withdrawn.

Bogor’s mayor, however, said the building permit for the new location was issued at the request of the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) in Bogor, which oversees the shuttered Yasmin church.

Therefore, he declared, the 14-year-old dispute was resolved after he handed the building permit for the construction of a new church to representatives of GKI.

“So, I think this is settled. The GKI has officially accepted the land and applied for a building permit,” Bima Arya told BenarNews, about the site for the new church, which is 1 kilometer from the original church.

When asked about some congregants’ desire to return to the old church, Bima Arya said this was not GKI’s demand.

“That episode ended when GKI decided not to pursue the case and decided to negotiate with the city government,” he said.

“The discontent is understandable. Everywhere you go there are people who have different views, but this has been officially decided based on an agreement between the city government and GKI.”


Worshipers from the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant church and the GKI Yasmin church hold a Christmas Mass outside the presidential palace to protest local residents’ opposition to their churches, in Jakarta, Dec. 25, 2012. [AFP]

Krisdianto, the GKI chairman in Bogor, welcomed the resolution to the dispute.

“The agreement was reached without any pressure from anyone and for the greater interest of justice and peace among religious communities, especially in Bogor,” Krisdianto said in a statement on the church’s website.

He said it was the most realistic outcome.

“The interests of all parties can be accommodated along with respect for the rights of citizens to practice religion and worship.”

But another congregation member, Renata Anggraini, remained adamant.

“We don’t accept it. The new land given by Bima Arya means relocation, and it has never been an option in our struggle,” she told BenarNews.

Renata said that since the Yasmin church was closed, she had taken part in a weekly service in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta as a form of protest. That has stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congregants’ spokesman Bona said the Yasmin congregation used to have 500 members, but the numbers had dwindled as many had moved on and worship elsewhere.

After the court overturned the municipality’s decision to suspend the building permit, construction of the Yasmin church resumed in 2009, but locals protested and blocked access to the site.

In a show of defiance, the congregants then opted to conduct services on the street near the church.

‘Protecting minorities’

In June, Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas told BenarNews that the government was committed to promoting religious tolerance and freedom.

“Differences among groups, including in matters of religion, must be resolved through dialogue without resorting to unlawful acts,” he said in an interview.

“My position is firm that differences in beliefs should not be the reason for the majority to persecute other groups and take the law into their own hands. This is the stance that the government is taking.”

According to a study by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, 180 cases of violations of religious freedom were recorded in 2020, a slight decrease from 200 cases the previous year.

Cases included the forcible closure of places of worship – including churches and mosques – prevention of their use, and intimidation of worshipers, the institute reported.

West Java province, of which Bogor is a part, recorded the most cases of religious freedom violations, with 39 instances, followed by East Java, Aceh and Jakarta.

Rights groups have blamed a 2006 joint ministerial degree for growing intolerance in the country.

Under the decree, the construction of houses of worship must meet several requirements, including the signatures and identification of at least 90 worshipers, the signed approval of at least 60 members of the local community and a written government recommendation.

Rights activists had said the decree was passed due to some Muslims’ concern about alleged Christian missionary activities and what they perceived as a growing number of churches in Muslim areas.

Minister Yaqut, however, defended the decree. He said that while it may need some amendments, it was necessary to maintain communal harmony in a religiously diverse nation like Indonesia.

“It is necessary to understand such a perspective. The joint decree is not meant to discriminate, but it is a preventive measure [against] anarchy,” he told BenarNews.

Bona, the spokesman for the GKI Yasmin church worshipers, said the government needed to do more to ensure that religious minorities’ could conduct their prayers peacefully.

“I hope that the minister will have enough courage to ensure that religious freedom, not just religious harmony, prevails,” he said.

Ahmad Syamsudin in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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