The continuing saga of the Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI) Taman Yasmin church in Bogor, West Java, is a stark example of the government’s inability to protect minority groups despite legal decisions upholding their right to build a place of worship. The Jakarta Post’s Ida Indawati Khouw explores the issue:
Every weekend Nora Bimoro sends text messages to her fellow parishioners at the GKI Taman Yasmin congregation.
The half-finished church — located on Jl. H. Abdullah bin Nuh of the Taman Yasmin housing complex — was sealed off by the Bogor administration in 2010, reportedly due to public pressure.
Since then, about 70 faithful churchgoers await Nora’s text messages to learn where the congregation will hold services on any given Sunday.
“I even made room for the congregation in the kitchen when [Mass] was in my house,” Nora said.
Members of the congregation said there was no way to get close to the church. The Bogor Police and officers from the city’s Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) cordon off the compound every Sunday, often accompanied by Islamic hard-line groups.
The hard-liners have refused to acknowledge GKI Yasmin’s right to hold services in the church, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in a decision released in December 2010.
The court rejected a request from the Bogor City Planning and Parks Agency to void the church building permit (IMB) it issued on Feb. 14, 2008, citing objections from residents.
One of the groups claiming to represent residents against the church is the Islamic Peoples Forum (FUI), which, according to the Setara Institute human rights watchdog, is a parent organization of radical Islamic organizations across the nation.
“The radical groups emerge under various names on different occasions. In the case of GKI Yasmin, they have also appeared as the Islamic Reform Movement [Garis] and the Muslim Communications Forum [Forkami],” Setara researcher Ismail Hasani said.
Forkami chairman Ahmad Iman said that the group was coordinated by the FUI. “We report our activities to the FUI,” he said, declining to comment further.
Eventually, Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto revoked the church’s IMB on March 11, three days after he promised to uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Diani cited the case of Munir Karta as a reason for revoking the permit.
Munir, the chief of a neighborhood unit in Curug Mekar subdistrict, was convicted by the Bogor District Court earlier this year for falsifying the signatures of 10 residents during a community meeting on Jan. 15, 2006. Munir’s appeal to the Supreme Court is pending.
During the meeting, convened by Curug Mekar subdistrict chief Agus Ateng and Munir, residents were asked to sign an attendance list that was used as part of the petition reportedly supporting the church’s IMB application.
Diani, who initially supported the church’s construction in 2006, declined to comment on his volte-face.
Jayadi Damanik, a member of the GKI Yasmin’s legal team, said the church did not attend the meeting and never kept the attendance list. “The document was kept by subdistrict chief Agus Ateng. He submitted it to the Bogor City municipality division head Anas S. Resmana on March 4, 2010,” he said.
The Indonesian Ombudsman previously issued a statement saying that Munir’s case was not relevant because the church used two other petitions to obtain its IMB: one completed in 2002 with 170 signatures and a second completed in 2003 with 97 signatures.
Under a 2006 joint ministerial degree, the establishment of a house of worship requires photocopies of the identity cards of 90 of the religion’s followers and a petition supporting the new church signed by 60 residents of the surrounding area.
Critics said the decree has been wielded in a heavy-handed manner by officials wary of Muslim hard-liners.
Forkami secretary Ayu Agustin said that the forum would continue to fight against the establishment of the church. “We have valid evidence [of the forgery],” she said.
“Forkami will always push security forces to disperse the congregation from the [church’s] sidewalk,” she said.
Ayu said Forkami needed to be with security forces in front of the church every Sunday. “It was proven that when we didn’t push hard enough, the congregation even dared to use musical instruments and sing.”
Forkami would not allow the parishioners to congregate in front of the church over Christmas, Ayu said. “If they insist, we will act according to our Islamic law.” When asked to explain, Ayu answered: “This is the land of Muslims.”
The church purchased a 1,721- square-meter plot from PT Inovaco, the developer of Taman Yasmin housing complex, in 2001. The complex is under the jurisdiction of Curug Mekar subdistrict in West Bogor.
As part of a mandatory social and public facilities scheme, PT Inovaco allocated two plots for churches
to accommodate Christians, who accounted for 30 percent of the complex’s residents, according to GKI Yasmin.
“But when it turned out that a mosque had been built on the land, we decided not to make a problem. Instead, we purchased the present site,” Jayadi said.
Although the congregation finished construction of a temporary 300 square-meter building, the Bogor administration sealed the compound in April 2010, leading the parishioners to hold mass on the sidewalks outside the church.
Members of GKI Yasmin reported that they have been harassed every Sunday since the church was sealed off, sometimes by hard-liner vigilantes, sometimes by the police and public order officers.
As tensions continue to escalate and the road to the church is blocked on Sundays, the number of regular churchgoers has dwindled to about 70, down from more than 100, while the congregation has dropped Sunday school religious education for members’ children.
“We have managed to get the children to go to our central GKI Pengadilan church [in central Bogor]. We are afraid the poor condition will have a negative psychological impact on the children, for instance, creating hatred [of hard-liners],” Magdalena Paranginangin, a congregation member, said.
The police have repeatedly said that officers have been deployed to the church on Sundays to prevent clashes between the GKI Yasmin congregation and hard-liners.
However, on the ground, it looks as if law enforcement officers are there to deter the congregation from entering the compound.
“[The parishioners] are forcing their will upon others,” a police officer with a name tag identifying him as “Eman” said as a member of a hard-line group stood nearby.
The authorities have appeared at a loss as to how to resolve the situation. Home Ministry national security chief Widianto was visibly emotional during a recent meeting with GKI Yasmin representatives.
The government had spent an large amount of money to deal with the situation on Sundays, he said, describing the congregation as “stupid” for refusing money offered by the Bogor administration to relocate to another location.
Widianto referred to a plan to allocate Rp 4.3 billion (US$477,300) to relocate the church that was rejected by GKI Yasmin.
Critics said the government’s offer reflected a willingness to accommodate hard-liners.
On Dec. 11, GKI Yasmin congregation again assembled on the sidewalk near their church. The parishioners, including many senior citizens, knew that the blockade would again be in place.
Nora was phlegmatic. “It is just a kind of Sunday ‘ritual’ of visiting our church, asking the security guards whether they will open our church gate.”
After they were dispersed by security forces, the Christians proceeded to the home of the Sidendens family in the housing complex to celebrate the liturgy for the third Advent Sunday, as part of the Calvinist tradition.
Christians worldwide are counting the days leading to Christmas. In Bogor, however, the members of GKI Yasmin do not know if they will be allowed to celebrate Christmas.
Timeline of GKI Yasmin saga:
2001: Congregation purchases a plot of land on Jl. K.H. Abdullah bin Nuh, a business district of the Taman Yasmin housing complex in Curug Mekar subdistrict, West Bogor district.
Mar. 10, 2002: The church building construction committee meets with local residents and gains 170 signatures for a petition supporting the church’s establishment, as mandated by a joint ministerial decree.
Mar. 1, 2003: At another meeting with local residents an additional 97 signatures are collected.
Oct. 27, 2005: The Bogor administration approves the church building permit (IMB) proposal.
Jan. 12 and 15, 2006: Curug Mekar subdistrict chief Agus Ateng and neighborhood unit chief Munir Karta invite local residents to meetings on the church construction, collecting signatures on an attendance roster.
July 13, 2006: Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto issues the church IMB.
Feb. 6, 2008: Calls against the existence of the church released by the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) start to appear.
Feb. 14, 2008: The Bogor City Planning and Parks Agency withdraws the IMB.
Sept. 4, 2008: The Bandung State Administrative Court (PTUN) overturns the IMB withdrawal decision.
March 4, 2010: Curug Mekar subdistrict chief submits to the Bogor administration the signatures obtained from the Jan. 12 and 15 meetings.
April 10, 2010: The Bogor administration seals the church compound.
Dec. 9, 2010: A Supreme Court ruling restores the church’s IMB.
Jan. 20, 2011: The Bogor District Court finds Munir Karta guilty of falsifying 10 signatures on the petition. GKI Yasmin says the church never used those signatures as part of its petition.
March 8, 2011: Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Bogor’s mayor retracts the City Planning and Parks Agency decision that withdrew the IMB, restoring the permit to the church.
March 11, 2011: Bogor mayor revokes the IMB again, refering to the Munir Karta case.
July 18, 2011: The Indonesian Ombudsman declares Mayor Diani’s claim is baseless. The congregation files a lawsuit against the mayor’s decision with the Bandung Administrative Court (PTUN), which later overturns the decision. The municipality then submits a legal appeal to the Supreme Court but once again fails to win the dispute.