Islamists Threaten to Kill Church Leader in Indonesia

Special to Compass Direct | Friday, June 6, 2008

Islamists Threaten to Kill Church Leader in Indonesia

June 6, 2008

JAKARTA – Members of the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) in Tangerang, Banten province, confronted and threatened to kill church leader Bedali Hulu yesterday as he visited his elderly mother-in-law in a rented home formerly used as a meeting place for his congregation

For the past 18 months Hulu’s Jakarta Baptist Christian Church (GKJB) in Pisangan village, Sepatan district has wrestled for the right to hold church services in the village. Members will soon take the matter to court in hopes of finding a permanent solution to the dispute.

Yesterday’s confrontation by the Muslim extremist FPI was the latest in a series of threats. Last week as the congregation held a simple meeting in a church member’s home – sharing a meal and singing a few hymns – FPI members arrived and repeated threats first issued in November to raid the homes of church members if meetings continued. (See Compass Direct News, “Islamic Groups Secure Closure of Two Churches,” December 3, 2007.)

Until January 2007, the congregation met in Hulu’s rented home. Following threats however, they began alternating meetings in various members’ homes.

Hulu established the church in June 2005 and held services in his home until December 2006 without objection from neighbors. He had obtained written permission from a local official to hold the services and the church was registered with Religious Affairs authorities.

When the church planned to hold a Christmas celebration in December 2006, however, FPI members began an extended intimidation campaign with the express goal of ending “illegal” Christian activity in the village.

Initially, the FPI sent a letter to the church warning it not to hold the Christmas program. Bedali immediately reported this to the police, who provided security during the celebration – but in subsequent disputes took the side of the FPI.

Hulu finally filed an official complaint in November 2007 after the FPI threatened to raid church members’ homes. Police, however, lost the document, forcing Hulu to file a second complaint this January.

Lawyer Djawadin Saragih advised Hulu to file a third complaint on May 21, citing continual harassment from FPI members.

Hulu has since moved to other rented accommodation, leaving his mother-in-law in residence in the original house used for church meetings.

FPI Threatens Church Members

On November 4, as children attended Sunday school at the church, a group of around 10 FPI members arrived and broke up the meeting. Hulu immediately reported this incident to police.

Hulu met with FPI leaders and local officials on November 8, but they reached no agreement.

On November 19, several FPI associates sent a letter to Hulu warning him and his family to leave the village within six days or the extremists would chase them out. Police advised Hulu to leave temporarily, but his wife and mother-in-law were allowed to remain.

When Hulu filed another police report, the police summoned him to a meeting at the home of FPI leader Habib Muhammad Assegaf. While Hulu and his wife met with Assegaf, a church member sent a text message informing them that a small mob had attacked the church, breaking windows and taking church property including a cross. The mob also forced Hulu’s mother-in-law to leave the building.

Hulu reported this incident to district police in Tangerang on November 22, who informed him that he could either return to Pisangan and cease all religious activity, or pursue the matter through legal channels. Weary of the constant pressure, Hulu filed an official complaint.

Pisangan FPI leader Ocit (known only by a single name) then demanded that Hulu withdraw his complaint or else FPI members would raid the homes of individual church members.

Hostility, Intimidation

The threats in November were part of a long series of attempts to close down the church. On January 4, 2007, just a few weeks after the disputed Christmas celebration, a mob led by local FPI members surrounded the church during Sunday worship and demanded that it cease holding services as it did not have a full permit for a place of worship.

A Joint Ministerial Decree promulgated in 1969 and revised in 2006 requires a congregation of at least 90 adult members, the permission of at least 60 neighbors and a permit from local authorities to establish a place of worship. Church leaders say it is virtually impossible to obtain a permit under these terms.

In January 2007 the GKJB congregation had approximately 12 adult members and little hope of reaching 90. Hulu, however, had obtained written permission from a local official to hold services in his home.

He reported the January 2007 incident to police, who asked him to stop holding services. When he refused, FPI members forcibly locked the building and took the key.

En route to a meeting with Assegaf, police handed Hulu a sheet of paper listing the FPI’s terms for settling the dispute: that Hulu cease holding services in his home and the church apply for a full worship permit.

Under immense pressure, Hulu signed the agreement, and the church began holding services in different church members’ homes from week to week.

This practice continued until October last year, when FPI leader Ocit and associate Atang Kosasih again warned Hulu that they would not tolerate any illegal religious activity in the village.

In November, the congregation decided to relocate services to a nearby city while they pursued a case against the FPI.

Copyright 2008 Compass Direct News