,-- Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on President Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono to order local governments not to demolish houses of worship
and also to revoke discriminatory regulations on religious structures.
Thursday local authorities in Bekasi, just east of Jakarta, used an
excavator to demolish the new red-brick structure of the Batak
Protestant Christian Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan, or HKBP).
ordered the church demolished for its lack of building permit on the
request of the Islamic People’s Forum in Taman Sari (Forum Umat Islam
Taman Sari), a militant Islamist organization.
demolition of a church in Bekasi not only violates religious freedom,
but it will fan the flames of religious division in Indonesia,” Brad
Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in an official
"President Yudhoyono needs to reverse the decision,
compensate the congregation and publicly order an end to the destruction
of houses of worship.”
A video of the demolition shows church
members crying and screaming, begging local officials not to demolish
their church while hundreds of police and army officers guard the area.
Muslim militants standing outside the church cheer the excavator and
shout Koranic verses when the building is demolished.
demolition of the HKBP church appears to be the first as a consequence
of protests by Islamist organizations, Human Rights Watch said in its
Christian churches in traditionally Muslim-majority
areas in Indonesia have found it increasingly difficult to obtain
permits, Human Rights Watch said.
As a result, Christian groups
have expressed concern about the possibility of additional demolitions.
In Bekasi alone, more than 20 HKBP churches operate without building
The Bekasi district government has also refused to
issue a building permit to HKBP Filadelfia, which the Indonesian Supreme
Court ruled has met all of the legal requirements for construction.
a religious minority’s house of worship because of opposition from the
majority creates a dangerous precedent,” Adams said. "The government may
be unleashing forces that it will not be able to control.”
regulations on the construction of houses of worship discriminate
against religious minorities, Human Rights Watch said.
decree authorizes local governments to require that "a house of worship
may only be built with the approval of a regional administrator,” such
as the provincial governor, a district chief or a mayor.
states that "if necessary, the head of the government could ask the
opinion of religious organizations and clerics” before a house of
worship is built.
While such regulations ostensibly apply to all
religions, in practice they have generally been used to discriminate
against religious minorities.
Christians, Indonesia’s largest
religious minority, have faced extensive difficulties in securing church
construction permits in some parts of the country.
problematic are areas where there has been recent demographic change,
such as an increase in the Christian population in traditionally Muslim
areas, including West Java, where Bekasi is located.
In some cases, approvals for the construction of churches have taken between at least 10 years and as long as 20.
Communion of Churches in Indonesia, the umbrella organization of
Protestant churches, has repeatedly asked the government to repeal the
In March 2006, Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh
Basyuni and Home Minister Muhammad Ma’ruf amended the 1969 decree by
issuing a new regulation that essentially permits regional governments
to continue to license the construction of houses of worship.
decree says that the construction of houses of worship should be based
on "real needs” and "composition of the population” in the area.
permit for constructing a house of worship requires: the names and ID
cards of at least 90 congregates, a support letter from at least 60
other local residents and written recommendations from the Religious
Affairs Ministry and the Religious Harmony Forum (Forum Kerukunan Umat
Beragama, FKUB), a consultative body of local religious leaders.
Rights Watch has documented the closure of more than 30 churches in
Java and Sumatra, and a mosque in Kupang, between 2010 and 2012. Muslim
militants have invoked the 2006 decree to seek to justify vandalizing,
and at times burning, what they call "illegal churches.”
Yudhoyono took office in December 2004, there has been an increase in
violence targeting Ahmadiyah, Christians, Shia and other religious
More than 430 churches have been attacked, closed
down, or burned down since 2004, according to the Communion of Churches
in Indonesia. "The government needs to recommit itself to religious
freedom for all communities,” Adams said.
More: The Jakarta Globe News