Indonesia Church Holds Service Despite Police Blockade

Members of the Indonesian church where two leaders were recently attacked held Sunday service inside their boarded-up building despite police efforts to stop them.

About 100 members of Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in the capital Jakarta gathered to worship while hundreds of police and security guards stood outside, reported The Jakarta Globe. Church members argued that they have the right to freedom of worship like other citizens of the world's most populous Muslim country.

"We just want to carry out our obligations as Christians, but authorities are treating us like terrorists," said Advent Tambunan, a church member, to The Associated Press. "There's no justice for us in this country."

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Police had buses waiting outside the church Sunday to transport them to another location to worship. But the church members refused and negotiated with the police to allow them to hold their service at the site.

The church has been boarded up since June 20 after its members defied orders and met in the building without a permit. HKBP had filed its permit application in 2006, but officials failed to respond in a timely manner.

After Muslim residents protested in December 2009 about allowing Christians to meet without a permit, officials decided to seal the church several months later.

Last Sunday, the Rev. Luspida Simandjunktak and church elder Hasean Lumbantoruan Sihombing were ambushed as they were going to church around 9 a.m. Church elder Sihombing was stabbed in the stomach and subsequently hospitalized. Meanwhile, the Simandjunktak was struck on the head with a wooden plank.

Ten people, including the local leader of the hard-line Islamic Defender's Front, were arrested in relation to the attack on the church leaders. For months, the Islamic Defender's Front had told the Christians to leave the strongly Muslim neighborhood.

The government has offered to give the church a plot of land to build a new church, according to The Jakarta Globe. But the congregation has not decided whether to take up the offer.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who relies heavily on Islamic parties in parliament, has been widely criticized for failing to crack down on Islamic hard-liners, who were immediately suspected of carrying out last week's attacks.

Muslims account for 86.1 percent of Indonesia's population of 240 million. Protestant Christians, meanwhile, account for 5.7 percent, and Roman Catholics, 3 percent, of the population.

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