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Locked out of their churches, two congregations protest government delays.
Two Christian churches in Jakarta, Indonesia, are protesting the wrongful closing of their church buildings by holding joint services outside the gates of the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia. The two congregations, Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI) Yasmin Bogor and Huria Kristen Batak Protestant (HKBP) Philadelphia Bekasi, have been gathering there every other Sunday for nearly two years, hoping that Indonesian government officials would enforce the ruling on their case made in their favor by the Indonesian Supreme Court in December 2010 and June 2011, respectively.
The conflict began in February 2008, when GKI Yasmin Bogor was shut down because the Bogor City Planning Office claimed the church lacked proper building permits. Upon further investigation, however, International Christian Concern (ICC) discovered that the permits were only brought into question after Muslims objected to the construction of the church. Even after the Indonesian Supreme Court ruled in favor of GKI, Diani Budiarto, Bogor mayor at the time, withdrew his required approval for the building, a response that the Indonesia Ombudsman's Office deemed "malpractice."
HKBP was sealed by the government in January 2010 after an official claimed the church had forged the signatures of the Muslim neighbors who signed the petition agreeing to the establishment of the church. According to Indonesian law, a house of worship must have the approval of 60 members of other faiths before construction may begin. Despite a favorable ruling by the court, HKBP is still unable to reopen its doors.
According to Article 29(2) of the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia, "The state guarantees each and every citizen the freedom of religion and of worship in accordance with his religion and belief." Additionally, the government officially recognizes Protestantism, the particular faith practiced by both GKI and HKBP. Despite these Constitutional guarantees and Supreme Court victories, true freedom of religion does not exist for Christians in Indonesia. The promised return to traditional Indonesian religious tolerance is still seriously stagnant, even after almost nine months into the new administration of President Joko Wikodo, according to SETARA Institute Research Director Ismail Hasani.
The Sunday gatherings continue in peaceful protest, featuring hundreds of believers who gather to sing songs and hear teachings from Scripture. Members of the churches say they will continue to meet there on alternate Sundays for these services. So far, they have met nearly 100 times, and it can, of course, be discouraging. GKI Yasmin's media coordinator said, "Sometimes we feel tired and...abandoned, not only by the government but also by Christians.... We seem [to be] fighting this battle alone. We really need other brothers and sisters to stand with us. However, if we have to stand alone, we will fight to the end."
"I certainly hope that the worldwide Christian Church can step up to show support for its brothers and sisters persecuted in Indonesia," says Chris Warner, ICC's Regional Manager for Southeast Asia. "We are all one body and when one part of the body is hurting, we all hurt. We urge President Wikodo, and the entire government of Indonesia, to honor its constitutional commitments and the decisions of its Supreme Court to reopen the doors of these Christian houses of worship without further delay."
For interviews, contact Christopher Warner, Regional Manager for Southeast Asia: RM-SEAsia@persecution.org
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