ICC Expresses Concern Over Further Threat of Church Closures in Indonesia

A Christian persecution watchdog group expressed concern over further threats of forcible church closures in Indonesia under the newly drafted religious law and the power of radical Muslims.

In a statement by International Christian Concern (ICC), the U.S.-based human rights group warned that the newly draft religious law in Indonesia based on the existing Regulation on Building Houses of Worship (SKB 1/69) since 1969 could lead to even more restriction on minority religions such as Christianity.

Under the Indonesian current law SKB 1/69 (a Combined Ministerial Edict No.1 in 1969), a religious building must receive a permit from the Department of Religion for performing worship. The permit will be only issued after the local residents sign an approval for the building, sources from another U.S.-based human rights group, Christian in Crisis, say.

As a result, according to ICC’s report, the law "has been used by radical Islamists to legally close over 60 churches in the past few months." Most of those churches are located in West Java, where Christian-Muslim relationship has been very tense.

ICC noted that many churches have actually been applying a license for their buildings, but years later the permits are still un-issued and the churches, therefore, are forced to close down.

The latest significant case of such church closure in West Java took place in September, affecting a total of 500 congregants from two Christian churches. Members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) allegedly blockaded the two Christian churches on Saturday, forcing them to conduct Sunday service on the street.

According to ICC, the newly draft regulation further defines that "religious activities must be conducted inside religious buildings." Any religious activities outside religious buildings can only be conducted "after receiving permission from the Mayor or District Mayor, with a recommendation from the Department of Religion." Moreover, such permission, if granted, would be temporary in nature.

Therefore, if the draft is approved by the government, it would mean that home fellowships are almost prohibited, according to ICC. And this will contradict Section 29 of the Indonesian constitution, which guarantees religious freedom and recognizes all religions equally.

"The draft regulations are clearly part of the same movement to close churches, incarcerate women teaching Sunday school, murder Christians in the streets, and behead teenage schoolgirls," commented ICC in a statement.

"This is a battle to see which ideology will rule the world - freedom and democracy or radical Islam."