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Indonesia blocks building of Baptist church amid protests

Indonesia blocks building of Baptist church amid protests

Indonesian Muslim women prepare to attend prayers marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan at Parangkusumo beach outside Yogyakarta, Central Java September 20, 2009. | REUTERS/Dwi Oblo

Local authorities are not allowing a Baptist church in the Central Java province of Indonesia to complete the construction of its house of worship, which has the required permit, due to opposition from Muslim residents in the area, according to a persecution watchdog.

The construction of Indonesian Baptist Church in the Tlogosari area in the city of Semarang has halted for six months, the U.S.-based group International Christian Concern reported.

Last August, the local government asked the church to collect more than 60 signatures from local residents, and the church got 84 signatures. However, community groups continued to pressure the government to block the church’s construction.

In the Southeast Asian archipelago of Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, churches often face opposition from local groups that typically question the authenticity of the signatures to obstruct the construction of non-Muslim houses of worship.

The church said it will take legal action to resolve the dispute.

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“We are ready to take legal channels to fight against the people’s refusal,” the church’s attorney, Zainal Arifin, was quoted as saying. “The reasons for the rejection are changing, starting from falsified signatures, expired IMBs (permits) until finally, the residents’ refusal does not touch the issue of principle permits.”

The church’s pastor, identified only as Wahyudi, said, “We will continue to fight for this because if left unchecked it will set a bad precedent for freedom of religion and worship in Semarang.”

Last year, the permit for a Pentecostal church in Indonesia’s special region of Yogyakarta was revoked by the Bantul district chief following protests and threats from radical Muslim groups in the area.

The official justified the reasoning by contending that the permit issued to the church at the beginning of that year did not meet requirements established by a 2006 joint ministerial decree regulating houses of worship.

The decree is one that hundreds of religious leaders have called for an end to, saying it is misused to block the construction of churches and other worship buildings. 

The church’s pastor, Tigor Yunus Sitorus, told UCAN at the time that he asked members to attend services at other churches. He did not want to issue a statement in order to avoid worsening the atmosphere for the community’s Christians.

While Indonesian Muslims are seen as tolerant and moderate, radical Islamic groups seek to promote a violent version of Islam.

“Most problems for believers and churches come from confrontations with radical Islamic groups that continue to exert significant influence,” says the 2020 report of Open Doors’ World Watch List. “In certain hot spots like West Java or Aceh, churches that evangelize often become targets of these groups.”

In May 2018, a court in Tangerang, Java, sentenced a Protestant pastor, the Rev. Abraham Ben Moses, a well-known former Muslim apologist, to four years in prison and slapped him with a fine of $3,565 because he shared his faith with a taxi driver.

A video was widely circulated that showed him sharing his faith with a Muslim taxi driver. As a result, Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organizations, filed a blasphemy complaint against Moses.

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