Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, speaking at an event held by the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP), the largest Protestant denomination in Indonesia, on December 4, called for tolerance and condemned religious intimidation.
He said: ‘Our nation’s diversity is a strength, a gift from God which we must preserve. Therefore, we must not force our will onto or intimidate our brothers in performing their religious duties. Tolerance is non-negotiable’.
The speech came as Indonesian churches are once again under threat by Islamist extremists. A group in the town of Pracimantoro, Central Java, has appealed to the local government for the demolition of five Protestant churches in the area. It claims that they do not have building permits. The churches have received authorisation from the office for religious affairs in the provincial capital, but the local government is refusing to hand over the official documents. The leader of the Islamist group is also the head of the local government Department for Religious Affairs, which may explain the hold-up.
Tension is rising in the area amid rumours of demolition threats that have been circulating in a series of documents.
Christians in Indonesia face many obstacles regarding the construction of church buildings. Obtaining all the required permits is a long-winded and complicated process, which can take five to ten years. Approval is required from a quorum of residents in the surrounding area as well as the local Interreligious Dialogue Committee. Officials often come under pressure from radical Islamists to block church building projects.
In addition to the five Protestant churches in Central Java, nine churches in West Java have come under threat by extremists. One of them, GKI Yasmin Church in Bogor, has come under severe and sustained harassment from both the authorities and Islamists. The congregation has been forced to hold services on the street in front of its half-constructed church since the authorities revoked its building permit. They have refused to allow GKI to reopen in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling.
HKBP in Bekasi suffered a similar ordeal and was eventually forced to drop its campaign to build a new church after an elder was stabbed and a minister beaten in 2009.