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 Police prevent hardliners from closing down Bantul church

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BerichtOnderwerp: Police prevent hardliners from closing down Bantul church   do 16 jul 2015 - 10:50

The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta, Thu, July 16 2015

The Bantul Police in Yogyakarta on Tuesday managed to prevent a local Muslim group from forcibly shutting down an Indonesian Baptist Church in Sewon district after exchanging heated arguments with members of the group.

The incident started when dozens of members of the Yogyakarta Islamic Jihad Front (FJI) arrived on motorcycles at around 5 p.m. local time at the church, which is located in Saman hamlet.

Most of them had their faces covered with turbans, while others wore blue vests with the words “Jamaah Hizbullah” written on the back.

Hundreds of Bantul Police personnel formed a human barricade to stop them from approaching the church. The police then searched them and seized several iron pipes from them. A quarrel occurred at one point when one of the protesters took pictures of police who were standing guard.

The group insisted the church be closed down, saying that it did not have a proper building permit (IMB) from the Bantul regency administration.

“We want the church closed and its signboard pulled down,” Yogyakarta FJI leader Abdul Rohman said to police.

Sewon District Police chief Comr. Heru Setiawan and Bantul Police operational unit head Comr. Qori Handoko then approached the protesters to negotiate with them. Negotiations, however, became tense as the protesters were hellbent on sealing off the church that day, which was also the 27th day of Ramadhan.

“The church must be sealed and can no longer be used because it has no permit. A large house next to the church is often used for religious activities on Wednesdays and Saturdays,” Rohman argued.

Heru, however, pointed out that it was the Bantul regency administration that had the authority to close houses of worship in the area as the police were only tasked with securing public order and preventing conflict.

“I will convey your wishes to the regency administration. The police, however, are not authorized to close a place of worship,” he said.

FJI members finally decided to leave the church soon after dusk. Police did not make any arrests although the protesters came close to breaking the law.

“We deployed around 200 personnel to secure the church in anticipation of FJI’s arrival. We will continue to secure the church and conduct patrols,” said Qori.

In 2011, the Yogyakarta office of the Religious Affairs Ministry reported that 3.2 million, or 92 percent, of the province’s 3.5 million residents were Muslims.

At least five churches, including the one in Saman, and a religious tourist site in Yogyakarta are on the cusp of being forced into closure this year following pressure from local Muslim groups, according to a recent report from NGO Friends of Freedom of Religion and Association (Sobat KBB).

Saman hamlet chief Kuat Slamet, meanwhile, said local residents had had no objection to the church’s presence over recent decades. However, following the commotion, some residents now lent their support to the church’s closure.

According to a 2006 joint ministerial decree, a new house of worship must have the support of at least 90 congregation members and 60 local residents of different faiths.

Eko Riyadi, director of Yogyakarta-based Indonesian Islamic University’s Center for Human Rights (Pusham UII), recently said that the decree had made it difficult for religious minorities in Muslim-majority Indonesia to build new houses of worship.

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