JAKARTA, Indonesia (Compass Direct News) – An Islamic mob stopped construction of Santa Maria Immaculata Catholic Church in Citra Garden, West Jakarta earlier this month even as government officials in Yasmin Park, Bogor, West Java halted work on an Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) building.
On March 12, the same day GKI faced closure from government officials, protesters led by the United Islam Forum (FUIB) blockaded the entrance to Citra Garden, demanding that construction of the Catholic church building there cease. They based their demand on the claim that it did not have the approval of the local citizens, but the church had official permission and therefore has been under construction for several weeks.
The building permit was posted in plain view, but the Islamic protesters said they felt that not all citizens had agreed to allow the building.
The Rev. Peter Kurniawan Subagyo of Santa Maria Immaculata said the church belonged to the parochial district of Cengkareng, but that the district became so large (20,000 people) that a separate parish needed to be established. The church had found an 8,000-square- meter lot in Citra Garden.
The building permit was processed normally, and all necessary citizen signatures were secured, he said. The Jakarta provincial government approved the permit, which was formally published in state-owned media on Jan. 18.
Shortly after approval of the building permit, the church building committee went to work. Construction had been under way for only a few weeks before Islamic crowds began demonstrating in the name of the local citizens.
Church leader Albertus Suriata said the congregation never has had problems with local people.
"We have had good relations," Suriata told Compass. "I don't think that anyone near the church had objections. We suspect outsiders."
He said that the church had attempted to resolve the problems posed by the protesters through a number of informal channels.
"We had just begun to build," he said. "Do we have to stop just because of demonstrations? Besides, we have official permission from the government."
In West Java, Bogor city police on March 12 sealed the construction site of the Yasmin Park Indonesian Christian Church. Previously the Bogor city government had revoked the church building permit, claiming that the congregation created "uneasiness" among local people.
Sources said the permit revocation and closure were the direct result of pressure from organizations such as the Muslim Communication Forum of Indonesia (FORKAMI), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, and the Muslim Lawyers' Team (TPM), which had repeatedly called for a halt to church construction.
Chief Abdul Rahman of the Bogor police said he sealed the building site on instructions from Area Secretary Bambang Gunawan.
"We followed the instructions of the Bogor Area Secretary and sealed the church," Rahman told Compass.
The Bogor city government's claim that the church caused "uneasiness" among the local people is false, said a source who requested anonymity. The source said the Bogor city government came under pressure from several Muslim organizations to revoke the building permit, and that in fact Yasmin Park residents had no objection to a church in their midst.
"Relations between the church and the residents were always good," the source said.
Ayu Augustina, leader of Muslim Communication Forum of Indonesia in Bogor, was resolute in his opposition.
"We intend to continue meeting – we will pursue this matter to the end," he told Compass. "The church must be sealed."
GKI spokesperson Ujang Sujai said that the church is working to arrange a meeting between the Area Secretary Gunawan and Yasmin Park residents said to be opposed to the building.