Indonesian municipal officials reportedly oppose construction of churches in Banten — BenarNews
The Indonesian government is investigating reports that senior officials in a city near Jakarta signed a statement opposing the construction of churches in their jurisdiction, an official said on Friday.
On the same day, an umbrella organization of Protestant churches in Indonesia called opposition to church building a “politicization of identity” and warned that it “threatens diversity” in the Muslim-majority country which has 25 million Christians.
A video circulating online appears to show the mayor and deputy mayor of Cilegon, a town in Banten province, signing a banner brought by local Muslim protesters who opposed the construction of churches there.
“We want to know what really happened,” said Mualimin Abdi, director general of human rights at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.
“I asked the local ministry office to find out,” he told BenarNews.
On Wednesday, a group calling itself the Local Wisdom Rescue Committee of Cilegon City rallied outside City Hall and demanded Mayor Helldy Agustian and his deputy Sanuji Pentamarta sign their petition, TVOne reported.
In the video, it appears that Helldy and Sanuji signed the petition.
BenarNews couldn’t immediately reach either for comment, but Helldy told local media he was listening to the voices of local communities.
“What I did was to respond to the wish of the communities in Cilegon City, including religious leaders, community leaders, youth leaders and other organizations,” he told CNN Indonesia.
“Politicization of Identity”
The Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), an umbrella organization of Protestant churches, condemned the episode.
“This incident proves that the politicization of identity is of growing concern and threatens the fabric of diversity for which we should be grateful as God’s gift to this nation,” the PGI spokesperson said on Friday. Jeirry Sumampow, in a statement.
He said the Indonesian constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to practice their religion.
Jeirry also urged Christians to act compassionately in response to intolerance.
“We must never tire of seeking dialogue and cooperation as a dignified way to manage differences and promote national harmony,” he said.
There are no churches in Cilegon, which is located about 100 kilometers west of Jakarta. Christians here must drive 45 minutes to the nearby town of Serang to attend services.
Human rights groups have cited opposition to church building as an example of growing intolerance in Indonesia, home to an estimated 270 million people, 11% of whom are Christians.
For example, Christians in Bogor, a town just south of Jakarta, have been seeking for years to have their church reopened after authorities closed it in 2008 because residents objected.
Alissa Wahid, a member of the religious moderation task force at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, criticized officials who capitulate to intolerant groups “who regard other groups as enemies and nuisances”.
“These things often happen under the guise of community unity and social harmony,” Alissa told BenarNews.
Human rights groups have blamed a 2006 joint ministerial degree for growing intolerance in Southeast Asia’s most populous country.
Under the decree, the construction of places of worship must meet several requirements, including the signature and identification of at least 90 worshippers, the signed approval of at least 60 members of the local community and a written recommendation from the government.
Human rights activists had said the decree was passed due to concern among some Muslims over alleged activities by Christian missionaries and what they perceived to be a growing number of churches in Muslim areas.
Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas defended the decree in an interview with BenarNews last year, saying that while it might need some modification, it was necessary to maintain communal harmony in a religiously diverse nation. like Indonesia.
The head of the Center for Religious Harmony ministry, Wawan Djunaedi, urged local leaders to respect the constitutional rights of all citizens.
“There is no reason for regional officials not to facilitate the construction of places of worship when the number of potential users has reached 90 people,” Wawan said on the ministry’s website on Thursday.
Nazarudin Latif in Jakarta contributed to this report.