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Indonesia: Church in West Java Bulldozed

Wednesday, July 9, 2008 | Tag Cloud

Officials give no viable alternative to church caught in land dispute.

JAKARTA, July 8 (Compass Direct News) -- Public Order officials on June 26 demolished a church building in Cimahi regency of Bandung district, West Java, to make way for a new shopping mall and bus terminal after church leaders failed to convince authorities that they owned the land on which it was built.

Since the Indonesian Anglican Church of Cirebeum village was established in 1992 – with a letter of approval from 20 families in the immediate neighborhood – courts have dealt with a succession of people claiming to be the rightful owners of the property. Even as the church building was demolished, a civil tribunal in Bandung district was considering a verdict on rightful ownership following a hearing on June 24.

Public Order officials on June 26 arrived at the site with a demolition order issued by the mayor of Cimahi regency. They proceeded to demolish the building – first breaking and removing furniture before bulldozing the structure. As pastor Raman Saragih tried to stop them, one of the men hit him in the face and chest. Several others then joined in until another church member intervened.

Saragih and his church members are pursuing legal action against the Cimahi government – but it will be too late to save their church building, which now lies in ruins.

At the same time, the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), a sub-group of the Anti-Apostasy Alliance Movement (AGAP), has continued to forcibly close churches in Bandung district, citing the lack of necessary worship permits.

Under a Joint Ministerial Decree issued in 1969 by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs, houses of worship are required to obtain a permit from both the local religious office and the head of the local neighborhood unit. Many pastors claim that a 2006 revision to the decree has made it virtually impossible to obtain the appropriate permit, making their churches prime targets for extremist groups.

Most recently, a mob attempted to demolish two buildings in a church compound used by three congregations in Jatimulya village, West Java, on June 14. The initial dismantling of a roof, doors and fence came to a halt only after a Public Order officer from Bekasi regency fell from the roof of one of the buildings. Authorities had sealed the buildings shut in 2005. (See Compass Direct News, “Indonesian Islamists Try to Destroy Church Buildings,” June 24.)

In August 2005, respected Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra, rector of the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, demanded that police take action against FPI and AGAP for forcibly closing churches.

“This group has taken the law into their own hands and they have to be punished in line with the law,” he told reporters at the online news portal Detik.com

Azyumardi insisted that only the government had the authority to close down houses of worship. Extremists, however, have continued to act with impunity.

Church Told to Relocate

Earlier this year, as debate raged over ownership of the Cirebeum village Anglican church building, Cimahi regency official Asep Syaifulah asked Saragih to relocate his church meetings.

Pastor Raman Saragih

Saragih demanded an alternative building site and a building permit for a new church in Cirebeum. On June 18, however, the Cimahi regency sent a letter stating that it had authorized the demolition of the church because it did not have the required building permit. Syaifulah also told Saragih he could not build another church in Cirebeum because it was a Muslim-majority area.

Asep offered Saragih 50 million rupiah (US$5,445) in compensation, but Saragih rejected the offer.

The chief of Cirebeum village also met with Saragih several times to discuss the future of the church. Saragih insisted that the church remain in Cibereum in order to serve its members; he asked that local authorities provide new land and a building permit for a new church, but they refused.

Saragih claims to have bought the land in 1991 from a farmer, Yus Boyoh, who gave him a simple receipt rather than a legal title deed. At the time Saragih and his fellow church members firmly believed the sale was legitimate.

In 1994, a man named Nunung Hidayah visited the church, claiming to be a descendant of the original landowner, Soma Bin Wargadiredja. Hidayah showed Saragih a title deed to the property.

Indonesian courts then declared Hidayah the rightful owner of the land, but the church was allowed to continue operating.

Four years later, in 1998, a woman named Ida Rosliah lodged a counter-claim. The Supreme Court eventually declared Rosliah the rightful owner, although Hidayah still held the title deed.

Buoyed by the court’s decision, Rosliah in 2003 sold the land to a man identified only as Idris. Idris in turn sold the land to the government of Cimahi regency in 2007, offering Saragih compensation of 125 million rupiah (US$13,550).

Saragih refused, as this amount would not cover the expenses associated with purchasing new land, obtaining a building permit and constructing a new church.

In April, Cimahi regency officials announced the construction of a new shopping mall and bus terminal on the land in question.

In response, Hidayah appealed to a civil tribunal in Bandung on June 24, producing his title deed and insisting that his ancestors had not sold the land to anyone.

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