By BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar with BosNewsLife News Center
JAKARTA/AMSTERDAM (BosNewsLife) -- About 30 local officials backed by Muslim militants closed down a Baptist church in Bandung, the capital of the tense Indonesian province of West Java, investigators confirmed Thursday, August 10.
On July 16 the group interrupted the Sunday worship service of the Batu Zaman Baptist Church and demanded to see an official permit, reported Open Doors, a Netherlands based organization investigating reports of persecution of Christians.
"We tried since the foundation of the church in 1998 to receive a permit," but without results, said Reverend Mathias in remarks published by Open Doors.
Although local officials allegedly gave "verbal permission" they refused to give an official permit, because they feared tensions with the predominantly Islamic community, Mathias was quoted as saying. More details about his name were not released, apparently because of security reasons.
The Baptists have been involved in several social projects, including handing out 50 scholarships to impoverished students from different religious backgrounds, Open Doors said. In addition the Batu Zaman Baptist Church reportedly gave several courses related to electronics and sewing.
Reverend Mathias said in a statement his congregation was popular and mainly targeted by “Islamic institutions” who he claimed, “pressured the local population” to oppose his church.
Under a new law dealing with religion, the Batu Zaman-Church was able to arrange temporary accommodation for Sunday worship services, but local believers are pessimistic about the future, Open Doors said.
At least 12 churches have been closed recently in West Java province, forcing many Christians are forced to meet ‘underground’, Open Doors and other investigators said.
The Batu Zaman Baptist Church was reportedly the last open church in Ciparay, a sub-district of Bandung, after earlier three other big churches were forced to close their doors.
News of the closure came as Indonesian authorities prepared to execute Saturday, August 12, three Christian men, Fabianus Tibo, 60, Dominggus da Silva, 39, and Marinus Riwu, 48, on charges of involvement in religious clashes.
The three men allegedly masterminded sectarian violence in Central Sulawesi and were accused of leading an attack against an Islamic school in 2000. Despite what several human rights groups called "shaky evidence", all three men were sentenced to death.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation and human rights groups and local believers have expressed concern over what they see as growing pressure on the Christian minority. (BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos contributed to the story).
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