Subject: Komnas-HAM to investigate forced church closures

[Note: All JP articles have no paragraph breaks. Rather than take the time to separate them, we're sending as is. We apologize for the inconvenience]

The Jakarta Post Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rights body to investigate forced church closures

Alfian, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas-HAM) has said it will investigate reports on the increasing incidence of forced closings of churches. The commission will act on a complaint filed Friday by leaders of the Communion of Indonesian Churches (PGI) and the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI). The Protestant and Catholic leaders submitted a list of 108 houses of worship, notably in West Java, which they said have been forcibly closed, ransacked, threatened or burned down since 2004. Perpetrators range from local officials to such radical organizations as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and the Anti-Apostasy Alliance (AGAP), they said. "I am afraid the violence will destroy Indonesia's image internationally because we are unable to protect human rights," commissioner Yoseph Adi Prasetyo said. Filing the complaint were PGI chief Rev. Andreas A. Yewangoe, and KWI chairman Bishop Mgr. Martinus D. Situmorang. They said that in many areas, Christians have difficulty performing religious duties due to intimidation. "From 2004 to now, some 108 houses of worship have been requested and even forced to close," said Andreas. He added people in some areas have been prohibited from performing their religious duties. "It (church closure and intimidation) is a violation of both the right to freedom of religion and the right to express one's religion or beliefs." Bishop Martinus said many churches had experienced frequent threats. "It is time for us to solve this problem because it is related to the respect of human rights and civil society's commitment to safeguarding security," he said. Christians account for some 10 percent of the 230 million population of predominantly (88 percent) Muslim Indonesia, according to official statistics. As a minority group, Christians have often complained of discrimination, saying building churches in some areas is practically impossible due to local Muslims' objections. The report filed with commissioners said the strongest resistance to the presence of churches was in West Java province, where congregations using shops and homes as churches had been forced to close. Similar intimidation also forced long-existing churches to shut down, the report said. Different actors, the report said, have been involved in the effort to close the churches. In some area, the district executive assembly was deemed responsible, while in other areas, mass organizations such as FPI and AGAP. At the center of the controversy is a 2006 joint decree from the Home Ministry and the Religious Affairs Ministry, which requires a minimum of 90 observers for building a house of worship. Antonius Benny Susetyo, a KWI executive, said at the grassroots level the joint decree had not been properly understood. "Even if the requirements have been fulfilled, sometimes the subdistrict heads do not want to grant the permit," said Benny. Andreas said the decree was meant for the sake of making religious activities convenient. "It cannot be used to criminalize people performing religious duties." Commissioner Yoseph Adi Prasetyo promised to review the disputed decree.

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