Around 200 members of the Banua Niho Keriso Protestan (BNKP) or the Nias Protestan Church in Bandung, West Java, were unable to conduct Sunday service following local residents forbidding the use of a house on Jl. Cibuntu in Bandung Kidul district for any religious activities.
Members of some Islamic organizations, such as the Islamic Forum, The Islamic Reform Movement and the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), took part in the protest. The rally, joined by around 100 adults and children, ran peacefully.
Delit Budi Setia, head of Community Unit (RW) 01, said residents urged the congregation to respect the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Home Ministry’s Joint Decrees (SKB) No. 9/2006 and No. 8/2006 on the establishment of places of worship.
To obtain a permit to build a place of worship, the decree stipulates that there should be a minimum of 90 members of the congregation, support from 60 other residents in the area and a recommendation letter from the local authority.
“We have found out that there are many members [of the congregation] who are from out of town. We residents don’t approve of this,” Delit said.
After a meeting with protesters and members of the congregation, officials at the Bandung Kidul district office decided that no religious activities would be allowed at the house.
“The decision refers to the Religious Affairs Ministry’s and the Home Ministry’s Joint Decrees,” Bandung Kidul police precinct chief Comr. Kokon Sudrajat said after the meeting.
Dharma Zebua, a BNKP administrator, said the congregation had routinely held services every week for the past three years.
“There had been no problems. Therefore, we were surprised when the residents protested,” Dharma said.
He said that his congregation had obtained the relevant recommendation and permit from the Bandung Kidul district to use the house for religious activities.
“We don’t understand why they [the officials] decided to revoke the recommendation. They only told us to be patient,” he continued.
Dharma said that all services were canceled following the protest as they did not have any other places to hold religious activities. He hoped that the administration would offer a solution to enable them to continue performing religious services.
“If we are not allowed to perform services here [in the house], please give us an alternate place to use permanently,” Dharma added.
This case is not the first religious issue in Bandung. In July, 2012, dozens of residents and members of mass organizations called for a halt to the planned Batak Karo Protestant church in Kawaluyaan in Bandung, West Java, saying that the congregation breached the agreement that churches would not be erected in the area.