Christians Forced To Leave Bandung ‘Worship Houses’
Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) members were forced out of a residential complex in Bandung on Sunday after hundreds of Islamists accused them of illegally using homes for religious activities.
Around 300 protesters, including members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Islamic Reform Movement (Garis), marched to the Bumi Rancaekek Kencana complex and demanded that HKBP residents in seven houses leave the premises. Four of the houses were located along Jalan Teratai Raya, while three were on Jalan Gradiul.
Though many in the congregation agreed to the demand, one group refused to leave the house on Jalan Tertai Raya No. 51.
To prevent violence, authorities negotiated with the group’s leader, and 30 minutes later, the HKBP members — comprising men, women and children — left the house under tight police guard as protesters cheered.
Witnesses said some of the Christians cried as they were escorted out of the house.
Protesters also asked police officers to place an “emergency seal” on the doors of the houses and post a notice that the members had violated housing regulations by worshiping there.
“Houses cannot be used for religious activities because that can cause conflict,” said Sr. Comr. Hendro Pandowo, chief of the Bandung Police. “The point is the [HKBP’s] safety. If they use houses for their intended purpose, their lives will be spared.”
Hendro said around 200 officers from the Rancaekek Police and the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP), were deployed for Sunday’s protest.
Meanwhile, Rev. Hutagalung, leader of the HKBP’s Rancaekek chapter, said they had no choice but to use houses for religious activities since the government had failed to provide them with permanent facilities.
“It is not that we want to use these houses for worship. But what else should we do? We have nowhere to go and [no place] to worship at,” he said.
“We submitted a request [to the Bandung administration] to build a place of worship, but they kept on transferring us from one place to another,” he added.
Hutagalung said the 450-strong Rancaekek chapter, which was established in 1992, had purchased the house on Jalan Teratai Raya in 2000 and had been using it as a place of worship since. “We only pray here once a week and we try to be as quiet as possible so we do not to disturb the neighborhood.”
However, the reverend said their neighbors still refused to sign a document that would allow them to legally hold religious activities inside the complex. They were told to ask permission from the head of the neighborhood association, who told them to go to the chief of the urban ward office with their request.
“The urban ward head told us we had to get the residents’ signatures first. So what should we do? We sent a letter to the district head and Bandung’s councilors last month. There was no response,” Hutagalung said.
The congregation’s leaders also asked permission from the subdistrict head to use the administration’s common room for worship, but the official refused.
Earlier, Rancaekek officials issued a leaflet for residents at the housing complex, announcing that the HKBP did not have a permit to worship there.
The leaflet stated that the religious group “violated the 2006 Ministerial Decree and Bandung’s 2000 bylaw,” and that they had disrupted public order.
The note also mentioned that four demonstrations were held in front of the HKBP’s homes at Bumi Rancaekek Kencana in the past two months.
Meman Nurjaman, a district official, said the local government had asked HKBP members to move to churches in Sumedang district and Nagreg subdistrict, where they would not be bothered by those opposed to their presence.
Hutagalung said they rejected the proposal since Sumedang and Nagreg were too far away.
“Eighty-five percent of the congregation live in this housing complex,” he said. “Besides, the church in Sumedang is [not under HKBP], and the building does not have extra space. The church in Nagreg is also full and they also fear persecution.”