Shhh! Do not speak of this! “Talk about extreme, militant Islamists and the atrocities that they have perpetrated globally might undercut the positive achievements that we Catholics have attained in our inter-religious dialogue with devout Muslims.” — Robert McManus, Roman Catholic Bishop of Worcester, Massachusetts, February 8, 2013
“Islamist pressure forces closure of churches in Indonesia,” Barnabas Fund, June 11, 2014:
Pressure from Islamic extremists has forced the closure of seven churches by the authorities in Cianjur district of West Java, Indonesia. An average of 40 churches are being shut down every year.
Building permit irregularities were cited as the reason for the closures, which are the latest in a long line of similar incidents, most of them in West Java.
Church officials in Cianjur have reported the matter to the national human rights commission, which says local authorities “should not be so quick to close down and disqualify [places of worship]”.
Some of the members of the seven churches have moved to other locations for security reasons.
All of the churches pre-date the 2006 decree from the Religious Affairs Ministry and Home Affairs Ministry that sets out the conditions for a building permit, the controversial Izin Mendirikan Bangunan (IMB), for a place of worship. Although this is meant to apply only to new places of worship, local authorities are imposing it retrospectively to long-standing ones. Some of the affected churches date back to the 1970s.
The requirements make it almost impossible for Christians to obtain an IMB, and the process is often long and protracted.
Applicants have to obtain signatures from 60 local households of different faiths in support of the new place of worship; approval from the local religious affairs office and local authorities; and recommendation from the local Interfaith Communication Forum (FKUB), which often comprises hard-line Islamic groups that oppose the establishment of churches.
Local authorities often bow to pressure from Islamic groups. Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy director of the Setara Institute, which advocates for religious freedom, told the Jakarta Globe:
There are elements of fear and intimidation. Often, local authorities come under pressure from intolerant groups actively trying to seek out churches that do not have permits. They often come to the offices of ward chiefs and subdistrict heads saying, “Are you a Muslim or not? If yes, you have to support us.
The most high-profile cases of GKI Yasmin in Bogor and HKBP in Bekasi are dragging on. Both have been shut down by the local authorities over building permit issues, despite rulings in their favour by the country’s Supreme Court. Members of both congregations hold Sunday services outside the State Palace in Central Jakarta by way of protest to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Mr Naipospos said that religious intolerance is on the rise in Indonesia, citing factors including declining welfare, the spread of radical ideas and the prevalence of hard-line groups.
This is a matter of great concern for the country’s Christians and other minorities as the presidential election looms.
Outgoing President Yudhoyono has been criticised for failing to protect religious minorities. Surveys have shown an increase of religious violence every year during his ten years in office.
One of the two candidates for the presidency is Prabowo Subianto of the Great Indonesia Movement Party or Gerindra, which calls in its manifesto for the state “to guarantee the purity of religious teachings”. He has demonstrated readiness to cooperate with hard-line group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which is one of the worst perpetrators of religious violence and intolerance in Indonesia.
The other candidate, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, would seem a better prospect for the country’s Christians and other minorities. He has said intolerance of people’s differences is one of the main problems in society, leading people to take the law into their own hands.
The presidential election is due to take place on 9 July.