Indonesian Theology Students Withstand Threats, Illness

Jakarta, Indonesia - Some 1,000 seminary students are resisting efforts to evict them from the former municipal building of West Jakarta where they have taken refuge after Muslim protestors drove them from their campus last year.

On Oct. 27 officials began evicting about 300 students of Arastamar Evangelical Theological Seminary (SETIA) from blocks I and II of the former mayoral building, but those in blocks III, IV, and V chose to remain.

The students, some of whom had sown their mouths shut as part of a hunger strike, asserted that new quarters offered by the Jakarta Provincial Government are not yet fit for occupancy – dirty and unkempt with broken windows and doors. They said the property offered, the North Jakarta Transmigrant building, has not functioned since 1999, and its five buildings accommodate only 200 to 300 students.

The seminary students told Compass that unidentified mobs have threatened them, telling them to leave the former municipal complex immediately.

“They threaten us and tell us that if we do not move, our safety cannot be guaranteed,” said SETIA’s Yulius Thomas Bilo.

The Rev. Matheus Mangentang, rector of SETIA, confirmed that the threats had been made. Asked about the identity of the mobs, he said he knew only that they appeared daily to intimidate and threaten students.

“We are going to move as soon as possible – Dec. 31 at the latest,” Mangentang said. “If we don’t, the place is no longer safe.”

He added, however, that they would not move until their new location was clear.

“We have not wavered in our desire to return to our own place, because we actually have our own campus in Kampung Pulo, East Jakarta,” Mangentang told Compass.

The Jakarta Provincial Government has not allowed the students and staff to return to their campus, citing fear of more violence.

“It is not permissible for them to return to Kampung Pulo; conditions are not conducive,” the Jakarta area secretary who goes by a single name, Muhayat, told Compass.

In July 2008 hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [“God is greater]” and brandishing machetes forced the evacuation of staff and students from the SETIA campus in Kampung Pulo village. Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor” following a misunderstanding between students and local residents, the protestors also had sharpened bamboo and acid and injured at least 20 students, some seriously.

Water and Electricity Crisis

Conditions for the 1,000 students living in the former West Jakarta mayor’s complex are worsening.

“Since the end of October, we have had no electricity and no water,” said Alexander Dimu, head of the student senate. “We have to depend upon our own resources and donations to buy water. We need about US$100 per day for water.”

Compass noted hundreds of students lined up to obtain water for bathing and drinking. They used old buckets to carry water to the bathrooms, which were badly in need of repair.

As a result of such living conditions, many students have diarrhea and hemorrhagic fever.

“So far, six have fever and 17 have diarrhea,” Dimu told Compass. “Those who are ill have been taken to a nearby hospital.”

A number of students have quit school, according to Mangentang, as their parents were worried about the health conditions. The average SETIA student is from outside Jakarta. They come from Nias Island, East Indonesia, Borneo and other areas. Their families are largely farmers.

“The parents have millions of expectations as to how they can help the children of their home villages after graduation,” said Mangentang.

The ultimate destination of the students is still unclear. The Jakarta Provincial Government has stood firm in ordering them to move to Cikarang, West Java, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Jakarta. At the same time, the SETIA Foundation has requested the government find a new campus venue within Jakarta to avoid the difficult process of obtaining permits in the new provincial jurisdiction of West Java.

After SETIA staff and students met on Nov. 16 with several members of Parliament at the former mayoral office, the MPs led by Education Committee Vice Chairman Heri Ahmadi promised to ask Jakarta Gov. Fauzi Bowo to return them to their campus at Kampung Pulo with the necessary security.

Mangentang said that he was still waiting for the members of Parliament to make good on that pledge.

The visit by the parliamentarians brought an end to a hunger strike by five students who had sewn their mouths shut at the former mayoral complex on Nov. 9. They were identified only as Yanisar, Leonardo, Mutari, Demas and Epy. That act followed a protest by the student council from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3.

Two units of heavy machinery had begun tearing down part of the main building where the 1,000 students are housed. Some of the students staying there were previously evicted from the Bumi Perkemahan Cibubur (BUPERTA) campground.

SETIA spokesman Yusup Agustinus Lifire told Compass the seminary is awaiting word from the Jakarta governor’s office about their returning to their campus at Kampung Pulo.

“We submitted an official letter to the governor, the police chief of Greater Jakarta and the military chief of Greater Jakarta on Oct. 28, but so far there is not any reply for us,” Lifire said. “We would like to leave this building if we could find a new place. It is not certain if the students began to attack and throw stones at police officers on Oct. 27-28 when they began demolishing one of the buildings. There were some provocateurs who started to throw some stones at police officers, then the officers threw the stones at the students and vice versa.”

Lifire also said the Jakarta governor’s office should take responsibility for the crisis. SETIA has asked the governor to guarantee security for a return to their original campus or else prepare or provide a new venue, he said.

A female student of Christian Education said there is a banner at the original campus that reads in Bahasa, “If you dare to return, we will wipe you out.”