An Indonesian boy holds a candle during Christian Tiberias Christmas mass prayer in Jakarta on Dec. 13. European Pressphoto Agency
Indonesian police forced members of a Methodist church congregation out of their building and sealed the door shut to “appease Muslim hard-liners,” a persecution watchdog has revealed.
Voice of America reports that in September, police in Jambi, on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra, closed three churches — the Indonesian Methodist Church (GMI, Gereja Methodist Indonesia), Indonesia Christian Huria (HKI, Huria Kristen Indonesia) and Assemblies of God Church (GSJA, Gereja Sidang Jemaat Allah) — and pasted a notice declaring the building was sealed due lack of a permit.
However, Christian leaders said authorities closed the three churches to appease Muslim hard-liners preparing to protest the gatherings and explained that local government delays and rejects permits without giving any reason.
“There are thousands of other places of worship that don’t have permits but continue to operate,” the general secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) told VOA.“I just can’t understand why they won’t let us have our churches. I can understand if [the local government] prohibited us from having the permits if we used the buildings for criminal activities, but we used them to praise God.”
According to Morning Star news, Muslim groups had sent a letter to the city complaining that churches were a nuisance, leading to a meeting with city officials and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the Forum for Harmonious Religious Relations (FKUB), and the Malay Culture Institute (Lembaga Adat Melayu), but no church representatives.
A short time later, government agencies, police, local chapters of the MUI and the FKUB decided to close the churches. VOA reported that Jambi District Spokesman Abu Bakar said the church closures were “just a temporary action due to objections” from area residents upset by violation of “administrative issues,” and that the FKUB “decided to close the churches to avoid unnecessary incidents. We think it’s a wise decision to cool down the situation.”
The PGI is now sending a legal team to Alam Barajo, a village in Sumatra’s Jambi province, in a bid to challenge the closure, according to VOA.
According to International Christian Concern (ICC), more than 1,000 churches have been closed across the country over the last decade.
Indonesia ranks 38th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.