Beleaguered churches fear intimidation on Christmas
Novia D. Rulistia and Slamet Susanto
The Jakarta Post
The members of two besieged Christian congregations on Jakarta’s outskirts are worried that hard-line groups will not let them observe Christmas in their own churches.
Rev. Palti Panjaitan of the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi, West Java, said that his congregation was again banned on Sunday from holding services in their half-built church.
“We would really love to celebrate Christmas in our own church. But we can’t, since it’s been sealed. We will probably hold services on the street outside our sealed church,” Panjaitan said.
HKBP members have regularly been prevented from entering the church, according to the minister. “We always have to face people who block our way anytime we want to hold Sunday service. This I believe will be the same for Christmas.”
Panjaitan said that the congregation was too large to hold services in one of its member’s homes.
The church has been involved in a building permit dispute with local residents for years. Representatives of HKBP have said that they were given the legal authority to finish and open their church after a decision from the Bekasi administration in 2010 was overturned by the Bandung State Administrative Court in West Java in 2011.
The congregation of the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) in Bogor, West Java, faces a similar situation.
GKI Yasmin spokesperson Bona Sigalingging said that members of the congregation remained traumatized by what has happened to them over Christmas for the last two years.
“We have observed Christmas under pressure twice since 2010. We were blocked by certain groups, and were told to dismiss services. This all happened in front of the police, who did nothing,” Bona said.
Sigalingging said that he was afraid that the congregation would have similar problems this year.
Last year, dozens of members of GKI Yasmin held Christmas mass in a house in the Taman Yasmin Housing complex after police banned them from holding mass in their sealed church nearby.
In 2010, the Supreme Court said that the congregation had the right to build a church in the area. However, Bogor’s mayor did not give a building permit to GKI Yasmin and the church building was sealed in 2010.
The Filadelfia and Yasmin congregations have taken to organizing Sunday services on the street outside the State Palace to draw the President’s attention.
Meanwhile, churches across the country are under tight security in anticipation of possible disturbances. In Yogyakarta and Medan, North Sumatra, for example, churches are slated be searched on Christmas Eve by Gegana bomb squads.
The North Sumatra Police’s public relation division head, Sr. Comr. Heru Prakoso, said that the inspections would be held two hours prior to Christmas celebrations using metal detectors. Individuals would also be inspected one by one as they enter the church on the Christmas Day.
Semarang City Police chief Sr. Comr. Elan Subilan said he has deployed over 3,000 personnel to secure 186 churches in the city for Christmas masses.
Apriadi Gunawan and Ainur Rohmah contributed reporting from Medan and Semarang
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