Special Report: Depok mayor retracts HKBP church permit

In a country which embraces five official religions and claims Unity in Diversity as the state motto, people with different religions apparently continue to encounter difficulties living side by side. In the wake of a recent conflict between a Protestant church with Muslim groups and Depok administration, The Jakarta Post’s Hasyim Widhiarto compiled the following report on the problems between the majority and the minority in the municipality.

Betty Sitorus, a member of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestant (HKBP) congregation in Cinere, Depok, recalls how a sudden attack in October last year had destroyed the congregation’s wish to have their own church.

“Builders working on our church were taking a break when around 50 people came and asked them to leave.” Betty said.

“They were all carrying wooden blocks with nails in them, threatening workers not to continue the construction of the church.”

The attack was organized by the Muslim Solidarity Forum (FSUI), members of which claimed to be Muslims living in the Bukit Cinere Indah (BCI) residential complex and nearby areas. It was the second time the congregation has faced difficulties after work on the same church was stopped in 1999 following a series of protests from nearby residents.

After the attack, the committee sent three letters to Depok Mayor Nurmahmudi Ismail, asking him to facilitate a dialogue.

Instead of receiving any response, however, the committee unexpectedly had their church building permit (IMB) canceled by the mayor on March 27.

Without their own church, the HKBP congregation, which currently comprises more than 350 families, now borrows Bahtera Allah church in Pangkalan Jati, South Jakarta.

Depok, situated on Jakarta’s southern border, was once known as Catholic city with many churches. Depok was founded by Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) officer Cornelis Chasltelein, during the Dutch colonial period.

The 200 square kilometer municipality is currently led by Depok Mayor Nurmahmudi who was nominated by the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and elected in 2005.

Having run his administration for more than three years, Nurmahmudi, however, has faced criticism from many non-Muslim residents since it has been very difficult for them to obtain building permits for their houses of worship.

The recent cancellation of the HKBP church building permit, for example, has drawn many protests from Christian communities, Muslim scholars and activists who promote pluralism in Indonesia.

Ranap Sinaga, head of the advocacy group for church construction disputes at the Indonesian Communion of Churches’ (PGI) Depok chapter, said since 2007 the Christians in the city had submitted 23 applications for building permits for churches, but only six of them had been approved.

“Seeing the unfriendly situation, many Christian congregations have chosen to hold off submitting other building permit applications.

“Now, many *Christians in Depok* who don’t have churches prefer to hold masses or other prayers at houses, borrow other congregation’s churches or rent public halls,” he said.

According to a 2006 ministerial decree, a new house of worship must have the support of at least 90 congregation members and at least 60 local residents of different faiths. It also has to obtain a recommendation from the govern-ment-sponsored Interfaith Communication Forum (FKUB) before gaining final approval from the local administration.

Data from Depok FKUB shows there have been 34 applications for building permits for houses of worship since 2006, but less than 10 have been approved so far.

“Most of the churches we have rejected get a strong refusal from the broader community, even though their congregations have already secured the required approvals of 60 residents,” FKUB chairman Farid Hajiri said.

Depok currently has a population of more than 1.4 million, 92 percent of whom are Muslim, 4.4 percent Christian and 2.4 percent Catholic.

According to the Depok Religious Affairs Office, there are currently 62 churches facilitating more than 62,000 Christians and six churches for more than 30,000 Catholics in the city.

The distribution of churches has also become a problem.

In Sawangan district, for example, there are only four churches for 15,620 Christians – far fewer than the 22 churches in Pancoran Mas where some 9,000 Christians reside.

In Beji district, some 11,300 members of the Catholic community claim to have no church in their area.

Nurmahmudi had approved building applications for several churches. On various occasion, Nurmahmudi has said his decisions to approve building permits for houses of worship were aimed at preventing conflicts.

Ranap said he was disappointed, saying the mayor should have played an intermediary role to settle such disputes.

“Seeing this situation, there is a strong indication the mayor wants to localize the churches and perhaps limit the development of Christianity in Depok.”

Noted Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra said the Depok mayor should have clarified his latest decision to revoke the HKBP church because the decision had affected not only the relationship between Christians and Muslims in the area but also Christians with the administration. (hwa)

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/06/26/special-report-depok-mayor-retracts-hkbp-church-permit.html

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