While this church in Bekasi, West Java was sealed, a church in Bogor that was also arbitrarily shuttered has turned to the UN for justice. (Photo : Compass)
The Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI) Taman Yasmin Church in Bogor, West Java has filed a religious discrimination appeal with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, church leaders said.
Since April 11 the congregation has held services on the roadside in front of the sealed church in stifling heat. The church pastor, the Rev. Ujang Tanusaputra, told Compass that the congregation has held Sunday services six times in front of the building that the mayor of Bogor sealed.
“We are going to continue worshipping by the roadside as part of the struggle to remove the seal,” he told Compass.
Tanusaputra said that the church had received an official building permit from the Bogor City government.
“Yet, somehow, because of a group that objected to the presence of a church, our construction was stopped and later sealed,” he said.
He said that even though the church brought suit against the sealing in court – and won – the congregation is not permitted to worship in the building, which is 80 percent completed.
Tanusaputra said he hopes the Lord will intervene to show that Indonesia is a country where laws are followed and all faiths may freely worship.
One of the church elders, Thomas Wadu Dara, said that before the church was constructed, and after the congregation had won the court case, there was a meeting with the Bogor mayor. The mayor told them to go ahead with construction and to build relations with the community so that their presence would be understood and accepted.
The construction was going smoothly until a Muslim group began demonstrating and the government sealed the building to appease them.
“I am greatly disappointed and cannot accept this reasoning in a law-abiding country,” Wadu Dara said.
Wadu Dara said he hopes that the Bogor government will be firm and honor the decision of the court in Bandung, the provincial capital.
“I hope that the seal will be taken away and that we can finish construction,” he said.
Jayadi Damanik, a member of the church’s legal team, added that the sealing of the church is arbitrary and without legal basis.
“We have requested that the Bogor government be aware of the sealing and remove it,” he said, adding that he was astonished that Bogor city officials were not obeying the Bandung provincial court decision in favor of the GKI Yasmin church.
The government wants people to obey the law, yet the government itself is not respecting the rule of law, Damanik added.
“This is most ironical in a law-abiding country such as Indonesia,” he said.
On June 20 Compass visited the church’s Sunday worship, where about 200 people met in a service limited to one hour. Approximately 100 policemen were present with at least 10 vehicles and nearby water cannon.
“If the building were unsealed, we wouldn’t need such tight police security,” said Wadu Dara.
During the service, a 20-year-old woman fainted from the heat of the sun.
Defying the Law
A survey by the denomination showed that there was a need for the church in the Taman Yasmin area. The Taman Yasmin Housing development had land zoned for a church, but that land was used for a worship place of another faith.
The GKI Yasmin development team purchased a 1,720-square meter commercial lot from PT Inti Inovaco and contacted community members, leaders, and civic groups regarding the construction of a church building. On March 10, 2002, the church had collected 170 signatures of citizens agreeing to the presence of a church on West Bogor Ring Road, Curug Mekar village, Bogor City.
The church canvassed the area six times between 2003 and 2006, holding public information meetings attended by hundreds of people, including youth and local leaders. It secured and submitted the necessary recommendations, and on July 13, 2006, the mayor of Bogor issued a decree granting GKI Yasmin a building permit.
On Aug. 18, 2006, the church held a public meeting with the head and the secretary of the Indonesian (Muslim) Cleric Elders (Majelis Ulama Indonesia Bogor), the West Bogor district officer, Muslim leaders, village heads, the chief and deputy chief of the West Bogor police and leaders of community organizations. The next day, a representative of the Bogor government who read a message from the mayor laid the church cornerstone.
Yet less than two months later, on Oct. 11, the church received a letter from the Bogor City secretary ordering the church to stop construction and move to another location.
On Dec. 6, 2006, the church received a letter from PT Inti Inovaco stating that the Taman Yasmin Housing area was not zoned for non-Muslim community facilities. The Taman Yasmin Great Mosque was using the land zoned for community facilities (its foundation had been laid). The church therefore decided to stay where it was, and on Jan. 10, 2007 laid the foundation for its building.
On Feb. 10, 2007 a demonstration took place in front of the Bogor City Legislature demanding that the church building permit be revoked. Four days later, the Bogor government sent a letter to the church freezing the building permit.
The church immediately reacted. It sent letters to the mayor, other involved government bodies, Muslim clerics and Islamic community organizations and filed a complaint with the national human rights commission.
The church argued that according to Article 6, paragraph 1 of Joint Ministerial Decree No. 8 and No. 9 (2006), there is no legal “freezing” of a permit. This decree says that a permit can be cancelled only through court proceedings. GKI Yasmin went to court.
On Sept. 4, 2008, the court in Bandung nullified the Bogor government letter “freezing” the building permit. Bogor City appealed the decision and lost. The Bandung court issued a letter on March 30, 2009 stating that Bogor City had exhausted all appeals.
With the legal issues cleared, the church resumed construction. On Jan. 8, 2010, however, the church received a threatening letter. A short time later, a band of people damaged a fence around the property.
On Feb. 25, Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto retracted his recommendation for the project, citing community pressure and protests since the building permit had been issued in 2006. The church received a letter on March 8 from the Bogor government ordering that construction stop.
On March 11 the Bogor government hung a sign saying “sealed” on the fence without following legal procedures, so the church continued construction. Church leaders wrote a letter to police and a local military commander in April notifying them that worship services would start on April 11. On the day before this initial service, members of the church people were setting up chairs when police – in defiance of previous court decisions – arrived at 5 p.m., cut the lock on the gate, and replaced it with their own lock. They also placed a sign on the gate that read, “Sealed.”
Since April 11 the congregation has been holding services in front of the fence by the roadside.
Victor R. Ambarita, Compass Direct News