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INDONESIA: WEST JAVA POLICE BACK CHURCH CLOSURES

http://www.adnki.com/index_2Level.php?cat=Religion&loid=8.0.201104498&par=0

Bandung, 26 August (AKI/Jakarta Post) - Despite laws banning people from taking the law into their own hands and recognising freedom of religion in Indonesia, police in West Java have admitted to helping Muslim hard-liners close dozens of churches in Bandung. They have backed the closure of more than 30 "illegal" churches in the city which had caused "anxiety" to local residents, according to West Java Police spokesman Muryan Faisal. Roman Catholics make up the three percent Christian minority in Indonesia's overwhelmingly Muslim population.

The churches, which had been established illegally in private houses, and were opposed by local people, mostly Muslims, Faisal claimed. "Our investigation showed that they were not churches but private houses that were made into places of worship without permits from local authorities and approval of residents ...

So, there were violations of regulations," Muryan told The Jakarta Post in Bandung.

Muryan cited a joint ministerial decree signed in 1969 by then-religious minister Moh. Dahlan and home minister Amir Machmud, which requires permission from local administrations for the establishment of houses of worship.

Muryan said the police would not arrest people or groups involved in the closure of the churches, despite mounting demands from moderate Muslim figures and legislators.

Such arrests were not necessary because the closures were not carried out violently, he argued. "They (those involved in the closures) asked for a police escort when holding talks with church worshipers and halting their activities. There was never any anarchy, so what is there to worry about?" Muryan said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) leader Andreas A. Yewangoe complained to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono about the closure of 23 churches in Bandung by hard-line groups, including the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), from September 2004 to date.

However, Communication Forum of West Java Churches chairman John Simon Timorason said that 35 churches had been closed by the hard-line groups over the past year.

Timorason admitted that the closed churches did not have permits as required in the joint ministerial decree, but had indeed obtained operational licenses from the West Java Religious Affairs Office.

The FPI is part of the Anti-Apostasy Movement Alliance (AGAP) that has aggressively been campaigning for the closure of churches in West Java. It also often raided and attacked nightspots during Ramadhan.

Prominent moderate Muslim figures, including Azyumardi Azra and former president Abdurrahman Wahid, had urged the national police to take firm action against the FPI and other extremist groups who took the law into their own hands by closing the churches. Wahid had specifically told President Susilo to take harsh action against the FPI for forcibly closing the churches in Bandung.

Only the government is authorised to close houses of worship, argued Azyumardi, the rector of the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University.

Should the authorities fail to deal with the hard-line group, he warned, members of the Banser youth group affiliated to Wahid's minority Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) party would move to take over the case. "To top FPI leaders, I warn them to heed this appeal," said Wahid.

Indonesian members of parliament also made a similar call for the government to arrest those involved in closing churches in West Java.

"The government must be firm against those creating anarchy. The police must arrest them," said Agung Sasongko, member of the parliament's social and religious affairs commission, as quoted by the state news agency Antara.

Sasongko said the parliament would hold a hearing with Christian leaders from Bandung "soon", and present the results to religious affairs minister M. Maftuh Basyuni.