The accelerating trend of Christian church closures in predominately Muslim West Java, Indonesia, has recently raised nationwide concern, reported a prominent UK-based human rights watchdog last week.
According to the report released on Sept. 8 by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), recent church closures in Indonesia share a common pattern and appear to be part of a wider scheme by militant hardliners, which can be traced to a previous report prepared by the World Evangelical Alliances Religious Liberty Commission (RLC).
On Aug. 17, the RLC reported that thirty-five churches had been closed in West Java since the Indonesian Council of Muslim Clerics (MUI) discussed the "problem" of Christian expansion in Indonesia at a four-day national congress in late July.
To solve the problem, the congress released an 11-point fatwa (edict) denouncing liberal interpretations of Islam, secularism and pluralism as un-Islamic.
Fueled mainly by the MUI, the drive for Islamization has increased in recent years, as has a growing concern over Muslim apostasy (leaving Islam), the RLC reported. This is evidenced in the Education Bill, the push for Sharia Law and the escalation in church closures, which are all part of an aggressive counter-measure to halt or reverse the spread of Christianity.
Another example, which CSW cited, is the high-profile court case of three Indonesian Christian women from the Christian Church of Davids Camp in Harguelis, West Java, who were accused of Christianizing Muslim children who attended their Sunday school program over the last two years.
CSW pointed out that the accusation of Christianization came not from the parents but from the local chapter of MUI.
MUI claimed that the three women offered the children gifts with a purpose of converting them to Christianity. But the CSW clarified that no evidence of this was given in court and, indeed, no children had converted to Christianity.
"The case is symptomatic of the growing harassment faced by Christians in the area of West Java," CSW concluded.
CSW's Advocacy Director, Tina Lambert said, "A huge injustice has been done to these three women. This in itself is a travesty but it is made all the more worrying by recent church closures and an observable strategy by militants over recent years to slowly chip away religious freedom across Indonesia.
"Indonesia has a rich and long tradition of interfaith cooperation and we ask moderate Muslim leaders to condemn this court decision and to continue to work together with Christian leaders to restore harmony and religious freedom for all."
In another example, CSW disclosed how one pastor was forced by Islamic militants from the vigilante group AGAP (Anti-Apostasy Movement Alliance) to close the church. The militants reportedly threatened the pastor and forced her to close the church when she refused to sign a letter stating that the church would stop all religious activities.
The pastor attempted to seek help from the local police. However, the police appeared to be siding with the militants. During a meeting arranged for a settlement in the next day, various representatives even continued to call for the church to be closed including the local officials, the local head of the MUI and the police and military commander.
Amid the fear of the militants massive anti-Christian activity in the area, CSW's Advocacy Director called on the Indonesian government to take action to prevent militant activity in West Java, to investigate reports of the complicity of local government and security officials in this activity and to revoke legislation incompatible with international guarantees of religious freedom.
On Sunday, local news agencies reported that Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged his governments commitment to protect the religious freedom of all citizens. He also called on the community to help prevent violence against any faith.
According to the Jakarta Post, the National Police chief has been instructed to enforce the law against those responsible for the closures of the churches, including those who took part in them.