by Stuart Smith
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania
JAKARTA, Indonesia — On May 21, 2012, a crowd of local Muslims and police surrounded members of the Congregation of Batak Protestant Churches Filadelfia parish, a Lutheran congregation based in Bekasi, Indonesia, just outside Jakarta, preventing them from attending Sunday worship, according to NPR. The congregation was headed to pray in an empty lot because they had been barred from building a church there by the local mayor’s “zero church” policy. It was the second confrontation in less than a week on the congregation by local Muslims, reported the Jakarta Post.
Displaying signs stating that Muslims are prepared to wage Jihad against the congregation, the crowd demanded the congregation return to their homes. According to local Muslim resident Irwan Taufik, the Christians are responsible for the confrontation. “The Christians,” he said, “should have gathered the community leaders and clerics together and asked us, ‘Can we worship and build a church here?’ But if in fact the people are not willing and reject the request, then why must they insist?”
Yet, the congregation refused to be deterred and as tensions mounted, truckloads of riot police arrived, but did not separate the Christians and Muslims. Reverend Palti Panjaitan, leader of the Filadelfia congregation, stated, “If my brothers are the killing type, then I am ready to be killed. That’s it! Tell the police I am ready to be killed right here. If it’s a riot you’re worried about, then arrest the rioters, not me.”
Finally, only after police informed the congregation that their safety can no longer be guaranteed were the Christians forced to return home.
The confrontation, Panjaitan believes, was the result of efforts by the militant Islamic Defenders Front, which, police records indicate, was involved in 34 instances of violence and destruction in the past two years, to incite conflict between the local Muslims and Christians. The previous week, bowing to pressure from the Front, authorities denied Lady Gaga a permit to perform in Jakarta.
According to the Jakarta Globe, the increasing religious intolerance by hardline Islamist throughout Indonesia, and especially in Bekasi, is deeply troubling to human rights groups, including the Asian Human Rights Commission. “There’s now a religious intolerance case almost every day in Indonesia,” said Bonar Naipospos, a Setara Institute researcher, in an interview with BBC News. “There’s been a marked increase in cases over the last decade. The government doesn’t do anything about it because it is worried about losing the Muslim vote. Even though the majority of Indonesian Muslims are moderate- they are the silent majority. If we don’t fix this we could go from being a moderate country to one dominated by extremists.”
Panjaitan agreed. “The majority of the Muslims here are tolerant, but they are easily influenced by the intolerant,” he said. “Actually, tolerant people in Indonesia are in the majority, but they are passive. I wish they would be more active and say ‘no’ to the intolerance which is now increasing in Bekasi.”
However, for now, the Filadelfia congregation holds their Sunday worship, complete with prayer, singing and protesting, in downtown Jakarta, right across the street from the presidential palace.
For further information, please visit:
BBC News — Is Indonesia Becoming Less Tolerant? — 28 May 2012
Asian Human Rights Commission — INDONESIA: Judgement by the Supreme Court upholding freedom of religion disregarded by police and Bekasi local authorities — 25 May 2012
NPR — Hard-Line Muslims Test Indonesia’s Tolerance — 24 May 2012
Jakarta Globe — Human Rights Group Calls on Bekasi District Chief to Protect Filadelfia Church — 21 May 2012
Jakarta Post — HKBP Filadelfia church congregation harassed- again — 21 May 2012