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Business interests blamed
for church rows

Competition for prime business locations may be the motive behind rows that are currently embroiling two churches in Greater Jakarta.

The Bethel Injil Sepenuh Church (GBIS), which occupies a strategic corner in the bustling commercial district of Jati Baru, Central Jakarta, has been under threat of eviction by a highly respected local family in Tanah Abang.

GBIS Rev. J. W. Sheno said the family of M. Yusuf Muhi, also known as Bang Ucu, recently told him that the church and its congregation would be evicted on Aug. 22, based on a 1957 court ruling on a land dispute.

“But as a matter of fact, the Central Jakarta District Court previously told us that it called off the eviction. But, Bang Ucu kept on telling us that an eviction was due on Monday. Of course, nothing happened,” Sheno told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

The dispute concerns the ownership of a 311-square-meter plot of land dating back more than 50 years, when Muchsin Alatas and the late Tjo Wie Ho agreed to set up a business partnership. During the partnership, Alatas allowed for the construction of a church by Tjo. After a fallout, Alatas revoked Tjo’s ownership of the land.

Contacted separately, Ucu said that individuals claiming to represent the Alatas family offered him Rp 25 million (US$2,900) to help evict the GBIS congregation.

He turned down the offer as he saw that the eviction had nothing to do with religious issues.

“I see the case purely as a conflict over land ownership instead of a faith-based row. The land on which the church stands is worth millions as the spot is in one of the busiest areas of the Tanah Abang market,” Ucu said. He said he would not take sides in the dispute over the land.

Ucu said that some who claimed to represent the Alatas family were motivated by possible economic gain in trying to evict the congregation.

“A kiosk lease at the Tanah Abang market can be worth up to Rp 40 million per year, and the land on which the church stands can accommodate around eight kiosks. You do the math and see how much they could gain from renting kiosks,” he said.

Some have alleged that the same business motive was behind the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) Taman Yasmin dispute in Bogor.

Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto has declined to reopen the church, built on Jl. K.H. Abdullah bin Nuh, in spite of the Supreme Court ruling legalizing the construction of the place of worship.

Church spokesman Bona Sigalingging said members of the congregation had heard rumors that Jl. K.H. Abdullah bin Nuh would soon be turned into a business district.

“We have no evidence to prove it, but it is obvious that Jl. K.H. Abdullah bin Nuh is a strategic place for business activities. It is already a center for businesses and office buildings. Here we already have a Giant supermarket, Hermina Hospital and rows of office buildings,” he said.

Contacted separately, head of planning and oversight division at the Bogor Building Supervisory Agency, Asep Yayat Suryatna said that local government now focused on developing neighborhoods around GKI Yasmin as a center for business and trade in Bogor.

“The city plans to develop the neighborhood to become one of the city’s development centers, and the area includes the street on which the church is constructed. Of course GKI Yasmin will be affected if the local government finally develops the area into a business district as planned,” he told the Post. (msa)

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