Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Indonesia: Christians forced to celebrate mass in the open air under police protection


The object now is to try to understand Islam. We are at fault for not coming to grips with its peaceful tolerant message.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan or HKBP) celebrated Mass last Sunday in an open field in Ciketing, a suburb of Bekasi (West Java), under the protection of hundreds of police agents.

The HKBP community has been the target of Islamic extremists for years. Muslims have shut down their church twice and prevented them from holding services in private locations. This month, they have begun to disrupt open-air Sunday services with threats and insults. In the first six months of the year, there were 28 anti-Christian attacks across Indonesia, seven in the city of Bekasi alone.

Rev Luspida Simanjytak, who heads the HKBP community, said she would never give in to continuous violence. “I will never give up seeking justice,” she told AsiaNews. “I shall fight for the most fundamental of human rights, the right to worship God and profess our faith.”

In Indonesia, the country with the greatest number of Muslims in the world, the constitution guarantees everyone’s right to practice their faith.

“Why do we have to suffer like this?” the pastor asked when she spoke to AsiaNews after explaining that local administration officials have not done anything yet to help them.

The HKBP community has been in Bekasi for more than 20 years and can count on about 1,500 members. Islamic extremists are against them, especially charging them with proselytising.

“We speak Batak,” Rev Simanjytak said, “our native language. How can we proselytise if others do not understand it.”

After 500 Islamic extremists from the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) and the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) surrounded the field on 18 July where they hold their Sunday services, she filed a complaint with the West Java State Administrative Court against the Bekasi municipality.

For Bonar Tigor Naipospos, vice president of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, an NGO involved in the defence of human rights, the fault lies with the local administration.

“Such violent actions by Muslim extremists are possible only because law enforcement performance has been very poor. Security officials have been hopeless and silent on this crucial matter.”

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