JAKARTA, Indonesia (Compass Direct News) – Public order personnel on Monday supported Bogor police officers who demolished a house where a church regularly met in a village in Bogor Regency, West Java.
Clashes broke out with church members and others as police tore down the Narogong Pentecostal Church building in Limusnunggal village, Cileungsi sub-district, and officers arrested 10 people. The structure was located on the Narogong Highway in Bogor Regency, south of Jakarta.
Those arrested were questioned and released, according to Police Commissioner Zulkarnain Harahap. Some officers and a civilian were reportedly injured.
Dozens of people tried to stop Bogor police from demolishing the building, as rumors of the impending destruction had spread far beyond the area. Church members had been guarding the building since the early morning the day it was to be demolished, but a senior police official told The Jakarta Post that he suspected many of the demonstrators were from outside the area.
Eddy Hidayat, head of Bogor police operations, said officials were forced to destroy the building because it lacked a use permit.
"The permit was for a home, but it was used as a place of worship," Hidayat told Compass.
The building coordinator for the Pentecostal church, Hotlan P. Silaen, said police were not neutral in the dispute but succumbed to the pressure of the Muslim group.
"The clash with citizens could have been avoided if the police had been neutral and not been goaded into a situation that caused bodily harm," Silaen said.
Area residents, including non-Christians, had accepted the presence of the church, said local Block Captain Junaedi Syamsudin. He said local people had no objections to the church and there had never been any problems with its presence.
"It was named a house of worship, and there was no problem," he told Compass, adding that conflicts may have arisen because the church was located in a house rather than in a traditional church building.
The church met without incident until the emergence in 2008 of an opposition group calling itself the Forum of the Muslim Brotherhood of Limusnanggal, Syamsudin said. This group worked persistently to have the church eliminated, and three months ago its members went to Cileungsi offices to object to its presence.
The Islamic group "met with regency officials and had an audience with the regent," Syamsudin said. "In the last meeting with the regent, he promised that his orders would be carried out on July 19."
Deputy Senior Police Commissioner Tomex Kurniawan maintained that the police presence had been positive and kept the conflict from spreading.
"Hundreds of people were blocking the way and prepared to fight when the house of worship was demolished," he said, asserting that officers were able to calm emotions and forestall further violence. "We worked to keep the hundreds from being drawn in to fighting against officials."
Kurniawan said two of his men were injured while trying to maintain peace.
The Rev. Rekson Sitorus said the more than 200 people who attend the church, which has existed since 2006, have lost their place of worship. The nearest venue for worship is far away for the congregation, many of whom work in the Bantar Gebang garbage dump, he said.
The church is in the process of applying for a permit for a church building, he said.
Sitorus said the church will take legal action against those responsible for demolishing the house, including the Bogor administration.