Church Closure in Indonesia Called Unconstitutional at Hearing
JAKARTA, Indonesia, June 18 (CDN) – In a hearing in its lawsuit against a local government, a representative for a church that Bekasi, West Java officials summarily closed earlier this year told an administrative court that the action was unconstitutional.
The Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) Filadelfia church had filed a lawsuit on March 30 against the local government for its Jan. 12 sealing of the building under construction. Regent H. Sa’adudin on April 12 issued a decree to cease worship and other activities.
At a court hearing on June 2, the coordinator of the litigation team, Thomas Tampubolon, explained that the regent’s decree of Dec. 31, 2009 to seal the building conflicted with Indonesia’s 1945 constitution. He said the decree violated Article 28 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.
“It also violates Article 29, which guarantees freedom of worship, and Law No. 39 (1999) concerning human rights,” Tampubolon said as he read the suit to an administrative court.
Tampubolon said that the decree also violated 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree No. 9 regarding the role of regional administrators in maintaining harmony between religious groups and in the construction of houses of worship.
Lastly, he said that the regent’s decree violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2005. The legal team requested that the Bandung Administrative Court issue an injunction staying the decree of the Bekasi regent.
Additionally, the team requested that the regent’s order be rescinded and that he be ordered to process the building permit request and to grant permission to construct a house of worship in accordance with current regulations.
Deddy Rohendi, a member of the regency defense team, replied that Tampubolon’s claims were false, and he requested that the court dismiss the suit.
“The regent’s decree was legal,” Rohendi said.
As the judges are considering the HKBP Filadelfia’s case, they are expected to travel to the village to interview citizens about the church building.
A member of the legal team who is also a member of the church, Parasian Hutasoit, said that the Filadelfia congregation was very upset with the Department of Religion and the Interfaith Harmony Forum because neither had acted upon the request for permission to build which was submitted on April 2, 2008.
“Our application has not been acted upon, and suddenly our church is sealed without clear reason,” he said.
Hutasoit said he regretted that the church had been forced to resort to court action. He added that he hopes the suit will force the government to show more care regarding the problem of places of worship and ensure the rights of groups such as HKBP Filadelfia that have obtained the required signatures of local people.
Prior to the hearing, Muslim opponents harassed the church’s Sunday worship, demonstrating against it on May 30, as they have on past occasions.
The group of women and children said they were from the Islamic Communications Forum of Jejalan Raya village. They gathered at 8 a.m. in order to hinder church members from worshipping in the area in front of the sealed building.
The Rev. Palti Panjaitan explained that the demonstration lasted about 15 minutes, ceasing after a community leader from Jejalan Raya village told the demonstrators they were causing a disturbance. Worship for the church is normally from 9 to 11 a.m.
“Only the building committee and the church leaders had come,” said Panjaitan.
He recounted that on May 27 the church learned a mob was going to demonstrate the next day and notified police.
“Apparently the demonstrators thought that because Friday was a holiday, we would have services,” Panjaitan said. “Actually, we did not have anything.”
He wished that the police would be more proactive about demonstrations. “As for the demonstrators, what more do they want? We have been forced to worship under the sky, on newspapers, in front of our sealed church, and they still demonstrate against us,” Panjaitan concluded.
On Jan. 3, a mob unrolled mats and sat in front of the church. “They wanted to keep us from worshipping,” Panjaitan said.
The Filadelfia Church was founded in April 2000 by Batak families in four village divisions in the North Bekasi area. They held Sunday worship in different homes on a rotating basis.
Citizens from the Islamic Communications Forum of Jejalan Raya village were disturbed by these house services. After the house services were banned, the congregation searched for a piece of land on which to build.
On June 15, 2007, HKBP Filadelfia was able to purchase land from a woman identified only as Sumiati. The Christians told her that they wished to build a church on the property, and Sumiati and her heirs signed affidavits stating that they agreed to this use. The Bekasi government issued the deed on Sept. 26, 2007.
After the purchase, the church began collecting signatures of local citizens in order to satisfy the requirements of 2006 Joint Ministerial Decrees No. 8 and No. 9 requiring at least 90 Christians and at least 60 non-Christians agreeing to construct a church building.
The church quickly obtained the required signatures, and on April 2, 2008 the head of Jejalan Raya village issued a letter recommending that the congregation be given a building permit. The letter was addressed to the Regent of Bekasi with copies to the Department of Religion, the Interfaith Harmony Forum and the District Officer of Tambun Utara (a sub-district of Bekasi).
Since then, nothing has been done. No building permit has been issued. Since Jan. 12 the Bekasi Regency Government has sealed the temporary building the church had been using. As a result, the congregation has been holding services in front of the building fence in the open air.
Umbrellas protect them from the tropical sun, where temperatures often reach 33 degrees Celsius (92 degrees Fahrenheit), and occasional rainstorms hit.