Mob forces church to shut down in Bogor

Bogor, Indonesia - Violence against religious freedom continued Sunday in West Java when a group of some 200 self-styled religious vigilantes forced Christians to close their church in Bogor.

Police were at the scene during the incident, but did not stop the angry mob, which purportedly consisted of residents from the Griya Bukit Jaya housing complex and other nearby residents.

Besieging the Pentecostal Church located in the complex, the Muslim mob forced about 190 Christians, who were inside the church for regular Sunday service, to leave and close it.

The anti-church mob claimed that the church violated a 1999 decree by the West Java governor that requires the approval of local people to build houses of worship.

Last Wednesday, a meeting was held between church leaders, Muslim leaders and administration authorities to discuss the issue of church closures.

However, the church ministers rejected the demands to close churches and went ahead with their Sunday services.

The minister at Pentecostal Church, Fekky Daniel Yengki Tatulus, was deeply upset by the incident at his church.

"They (the local authorities) should have found a better solution, which did not lead to this intimidation and threats of violence," he told The Jakarta Post.

Fekky demanded that the police act firmly against those involved in the forceful church closure, saying the incident could further disrupt religious harmony.

He emphasized that the revised decree on the establishment of houses of worship jointly issued by the religious affairs minister and the home minister should have been a solution to the problem.

The decree rules that a new place of worship must have congregations of at least 90 people and its establishment is approved by 60 people of different faiths and local administration.

"I think I would be able to meet the requirements by getting a petition from local residents," Fekky said.

Similarly, Indonesian Communion of Churches leader Nathan Setiabudi also expressed his regret over the incident, saying it was "anarchic" and against the law.

Quoted by Antara, he said the forcible closure could incite "sensitivity" among religious groups amid the controversies over the implementation of the new decree that revised the one issued in 1969.

"Never let the incident be used by certain groups to annul the joint ministerial decree. We must remain wary of this," Nathan said.

Whether or not a connection between the new decree and Sunday's church closure was evident, he suggested the government suspend the implementation of the decree to prevent further conflicts because of misperception.

With Christians making up only about 8 percent of the nation's 230 million people, the decree has made it difficult for them to build churches.

In the past two years, 23 churches in West Java have been shut by various Muslim groups, purportedly for a lack of permits. The most recent reported incident occurred in Bekasi in November 2005.

Those opposed to the new decree and other critics have said the regulation can sow widespread religious disharmony.

Several Ahmadiyah and Christian leaders planned to seek a judicial review with the Supreme Court because the decree contravenes the Constitution and disregards human rights