Members of two Christian congregations whose churches have been forcibly closed down by local governments held a Christmas service in front of the Presidential Palace in Central Jakarta on Tuesday.
Rev. Palti Panjaitan of the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church ( HKBP ) in Bekasi, West Java, said that his congregation held the service in front of the palace because hard-line locals blocked the way to their half-built church.
Since Christmas Eve, Panjaitan said, locals had prevented some 150 members of his church from approaching their church’s site. “They showered us with rotten eggs, sewage and various nasty things. They tried to herd us away from our church,” he told The Jakarta Post in Jakarta.
This is not the first time the congregation has suffered from such intimidation. Earlier in May, the locals reportedly hurled urine, sewage and frogs at the parishioners.
The HKBP church has been involved in a building permit dispute with local residents at Jejalen Jaya village, Bekasi, for years. Locals do not want a church erected in their community. Representatives of HKBP have said that they have the legal prerequisite to erect their church in the village. In 2011, the Bandung State Administrative Court in West Java overturned a ruling by the Bekasi administration that forbade the construction of the church. However, since then, locals have prevented HKBP members from conducting Sunday services.
Police officers, Panjaitan said, had so far failed to keep them safe from the intolerant locals. He said, “Instead of protecting us, the police tell us to go home.”
Panjaitan expected that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would come to the service in front of his palace to hear his congregant’s stories. The President, however, failed to appear even though the congregation had prepared a VIP place for him and the first lady.
On Tuesday morning, the HKBP also held a service at Tambun Police precinct in Bekasi. One of its members claimed that the service was not without incident. “When we held a Christmas service at the police office, we heard a loud Koran recital from a nearby mushola [prayer hall]. We never disturb our fellow Muslims when we hear the adzan [Muslim call to prayer],” said Erida Sinaga.
Sinaga said she hoped that somehow Yudhoyono would be able to restore the HKBP members’ constitutional rights to freedom of worship.
Besides the HKBP members, the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church ( GKI ) members from Bogor, West Java, also joined the Christmas service in front of the Presidential Palace.
The congregation’s spokesperson, Bona Sigalingging, said that on Tuesday morning, around 15 members of GKI Yasmin approached their church but were denied entry by city public order officers.
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the GKI Yasmin congregation had the right to build a church in the area. However, Bogor’s mayor refused a building permit and the building was sealed in 2010.
Sigalingging said that his members would never tire of holding services in front of the Presidential Palace and would continue until their church opened.
He said that the congregation decided to hold a service on Christmas Eve in a member’s house. “We chose not to tell police about our secret Christmas Eve service because they have become part of our problem,” he said, referring to police who side with the majority in cases involving minority groups.
GKI Yasmin has celebrated Christmas outside their church for a couple of years. Last year, dozens of members of GKI Yasmin held mass in a house in the Taman Yasmin Housing complex after police banned them from holding mass in their sealed church nearby. ( riz )