Dear President of Republic of Indonesia,
INDONESIA: Bekasi authorities demolish a church thus nurture religious intolerance in the territory
Name of victims: Congregation of Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) Setu
Names of alleged perpetrators: Regent of Bekasi, Dr. Hj. Neneng Hasanah Yasin
Date of incident: 21 March 2013
Place of incident: Setu, Bekasi, West Java
I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the demolition of a church by the authorities of Bekasi on 21 March 2013. I strongly believe the demolition is a violation to the right to freedom of religion guaranteed by the 1945 Constitution.
I have been informed that Bekasi Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) demolished an unfinished church belongs to the congregation of Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) Setu at around 2 pm on 21 March 2013. The plan was verbally informed to the congregation a day prior to the demolition took place. The authorities of Bekasi claimed that the church was demolished as the congregation does not hold any construction permit required under Bekasi Local Regulation No. 7 Year 1996.
I understand that buildings without construction permit are considered to be illegal under Indonesian laws. However, I am also aware that demolition should not be the measure imposed on illegal building which is still at its construction stage. Instead, as stipulated under Government Regulation No. 36 Year 2005 on Premises, such building should only have its construction process postponed until the owner obtains the construction permit. I wish to emphasise that, in this case, the congregation of HKBP Setu already submitted an application for such permit in 2011 yet the process has been pending since then as the Bekasi authorities have not informed whether their application has been granted.
Based on these as well as the fact that it is a common practice in Indonesia to start constructing a premise while the construction permit is being processed, I doubt that lack of such permit was the genuine reason as to why the authorities of Bekasi demolished the church belongs to HKBP Setu. Instead, I strongly suspect that it was carried out by the authorities to accommodate the request from intolerant groups thus nurturing religious intolerance in the area. I was informed that members of intolerant groups, Islam Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI) and Islamic People’s Forum (Forum Umat Islam, FUI) were present during the demolition and they even blocked the main road to the church in an attempt to stop the congregation from coming. My suspicion is also reaffirmed by the fact that such intolerant groups have been involved in the persecution and discrimination against other religious minority groups in Bekasi. I am aware that the FPI, for instance, contributed in the closing down of an Ahmadi mosque in Jati Bening earlier this month as well as in the intimidation towards the congregation of HKBP Filadelfia in Jejalen Jaya village in the last few years.
I am deeply disappointed to learn how the policy and action of the Indonesian government often only accommodate the interest of a particular group while neglect some others who are in vulnerable position such as the religious minorities. I have observed that the Indonesian government has not taken any serious legal measures against the members of intolerant groups who were responsible for the persecution and discrimination of minorities â€“ including the killings of individuals belong to religious minority groups and the destruction of their place of worship. Instead, in some instances criminal prosecution is carried out against the leaders of these minority groups. I am saddened that what has been happening in reality does not in any way reflect the commitment to protect religious freedom as enshrined in the Constitution and expressed by the government in international forums.
Given this, I am urging you investigate the arbitrary decision of Bekasi Regent to demolish the church belongs to HKBP Setu. In so doing, human rights principles guaranteed by the 1945 Constitution as well as international treaties ratified by the government should be taken into consideration. I am also calling you to provide rehabilitation for the congregation of HKBP Setu by granting them the construction permit they requested and allowed them to establish a church on the land they have lawfully acquired. Any individuals who are responsible for the persecution and discrimination of HKBP Setu’s congregation and other religious minority groups should be held criminally responsible and punished with a proportionate punishment.
I look forward for your positive and swift action in this matter.
Adven Leonard Nababan