Indonesian congregation locked out of church for Easter

Local officials in Indonesia have left a Christian congregation with nowhere to pray this Easter, a priest said Thursday, the latest such incident in the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.

Authorities in the Jatibening Baru sub-district on the outskirts of the capital Jakarta ordered the congregation to halt services at its church until it obtained a building permit, the Reverend Martua Risman Kurniadi told AFP.

They sent a letter to the congregation Wednesday after around 300 Muslims staged a protest Sunday at the Indonesian Christian Church, demanding worshippers stop Sunday mass.

"We are all disappointed and sad, especially since we have no place to pray to celebrate Easter," Kurniadi said.

He said the congregation had been praying in their semi-permanent building since 1994 with no problems, but the local community was reluctant to provide statements required to support the building permit.

"They said they were afraid others would call them infidels if they did so."

The church lies within the larger district of Bekasi, where Christians and several churches have come under attack by Muslim hardliners in recent years.

On March 17 the Bekasi district administration, also citing a missing permit, demolished a church in front of its weeping congregation following pressure from Muslim protesters.

Another congregation in the same district has been forced to pray outside its church for years, with hardliners blocking their entry. At times rotten eggs and bags of urine have been thrown at them.

Rights activists have said local governments are using the permit issue as an excuse to kowtow to hardliners, with churches and Islamic minorities bearing the brunt of attacks. They say mosque building permits are rarely challenged.

The Jatibening Baru sub-district's chief could not be reached for comment.

Ninety percent of Indonesia's 240 million people identify themselves as Muslim but the constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

The Setara Institute of Peace and Democracy, however, says cases of intolerance are on the rise, with 543 reported in 2011 compared to 491 in 2009. More than 300 incidents were recorded in the first half of 2012.