National

Lawmakers promise to help
protect churches

Hundreds of Christians protested at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, demanding the government protect churches across the country from mob attacks and forced closure.

They told legislators the attacks and closures by local mobs, with tacit support from state officials, had been on the rise over the past few years.

Protestors said the harassment and attacks often involved hard-line Muslim groups that did not want to  have a church in their neighborhood.

Taking part in the rally were leaders of the Communication Forum for Jakarta’s Christians (FKKJ), the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI), the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) the Filadelfia congregation, Santo Yohanes Catholic Church, and the Jakarta Baptist Christian Church.

Bandung bishop Mgr. Pudjasumarta was among church leaders in attendance at the hearing with House legislators.

Rev. Luspita Simanjuntak from HKBP’s Pondok Timur Indah congregation, broke down and cried while she told lawmakers about the pressures her congregation had experienced.

“Earlier this month, more than 200 local residents protested at our church. It ended with the Bekasi regency administration closing down our church, forcing us to hold regular services in the street,” Luspita said.

Aziz Syamsuddin, the House Commission III deputy chairman in charge of legal affairs, promised the protesters he would raise the matter with National Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri.

“How can this country neglect people’s right to worship? The police must guarantee security no matter what religion they embrace,” he said.

Tb. Soenmandjaja, a lawmaker from the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a Muslim cleric, criticized local government officials for failing to protect Christians and churches from harassment and attacks.  

“They ban churches but close their eyes to the many nightclubs that serve alcohol and offer prostitutes,” he said.

Azis said that Commission III would form a team to look into the issue.

PGI data shows that more than 10 churches have suspended services due to mob threats this year. The protesters said mobs exploited the absence of building permits, which they said were difficult to obtain.  

“We are discriminated against when we apply for building permits,”  said FKKJ chairman Theophilus Bela.

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