Pentecostal church's permit revoked in Indonesia after Muslim radicals protest: report

A pastor baptizes new Christian converts in Indonesia.
A pastor baptizes new Christian converts in Indonesia. | (PHOTO: CHRISTIAN AID MISSION)

A recently issued permit for a Christian church in Indonesia's special region of Yogyakarta has reportedly been revoked following protests and threats from radical Muslim groups in the area. 

The Union of Catholic Asian News reports that the permit for a Pentecostal church that was issued in January was canceled by the Bantul district chief, who goes by the name Suharsono, through an official letter sent on July 26. 

Suharsono justified the reasoning by contending that the permit issued to the church at the beginning of the year did not meet requirements established by a 2006 joint ministerial decree regulating houses of worship in the Muslim-majority country. 

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

According to UCAN, Suharasono claimed that "a house of worship cannot be a home at the same time."

The revocation of the church's permit comes just days after radical Muslim groups vowed to oppose the church's existence in the town, according to local news reports seen by UCAN. 

Palit Panjaitan, who chairs the group Solidarity of Victims of Violations of Freedom of Religion and Beliefs, told the news agency that permit revocation is an indication that "the state is defenseless against pressure by intolerant groups.”  

The church's pastor, Tigor Yunus Sitorus, told UCAN 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. 

According to the Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors USA, Christians make up about 12 percent of Indonesia's 266 million majority-Muslim population. The country ranks as the 30th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2019 World Watch List

"Although Indonesia’s constitution promotes religious freedom, Islamic extremist groups are becoming more influential in pushing for an Islamic nation," an Open Doors factsheet on Indonesia states. "Some regions of Indonesia already operate under Islamic law (Sharia), which poses a threat to Christians and other religious minorities."    

In addition to extreme persecution against Muslim converts to Christianity and discrimination against Christian children in schools, Open Doors notes that churches in Indonesia are "hard to build." 

"[E]ven if congregations manage to fulfill all the legal requirements, local authorities can still deny them permission," the fact sheet reads.  

As Christians face various forms of persecution in Indonesia, a number of Christians have been jailed on claims they violated blasphemy laws by insulting Islam or its prophet, Muhammad. 

In 2017, the then-sitting governor of Jakarta, who is Christian, was jailed on the false charge that he insulted Islam during a campaign visit. The accusation is related to a doctored video that came during the middle of his hotly-contested reelection campaign. 

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as "Ahok," served almost all of his two-year prison sentence before being released. 

In July 2018, it was reported that another Indonesian Christian man was sentenced to four years in prison for blasphemy. 

In May 2018, a Christian pastor received a four-year sentence after he shared his faith with a taxi driver and was accused of blasphemy. 

In March 2018, as many as 15 Christians were killed while many more were wounded during a suicide bomb attack on three churches in Surabaya. 

In its 2018 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom criticized the federal government of Indonesia for not intervening whenever "provincial and local governments enact unconstitutional regulations or policies that exacerbate religious divisions."

"[I]n late 2018, the government released a mobile phone application that provides citizens the ability to report on 'deviant' religious practices, creating panic among Indonesia’s religious minorities and underscoring the risks of acceding to pressure from hardliners and other intolerant groups," the USCIRF report reads. "Moreover, there has been little effort to rein in hardliners and other intolerant groups that commit acts of discrimination and violence against members of certain faiths."   

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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