Police mobile brigade guards the construction site of Santa Clara Church in Bekasi, West Java, on Saturday (25/03). (Antara Photo/Risky Andrianto)

Santa Clara Church Construction to Continue: Bekasi Mayor


MARCH 26, 2017

Jakarta. Construction work on Santa Clara Church in Bekasi, West Java — which had faced stiff opposition from hardline Muslim groups, will be allowed to continue as the developer has already secured its building permit, Bekasi Mayor Rachmat Effendi said on Friday (24/03).

Last week, the police's "Barracuda" armored vehicles had to be deployed to guard the church's construction site as a group of Muslim hardliners staged a demonstration against the development.

The demonstration turned chaotic as protesters from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Forum for Bekasi Muslim Friendship (MSUIB) became aggressive. Police were forced to shoot tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Bekasi Mayor Rachmat said the local government has checked that the church's building permit is valid. Therefore, there is no reason to stop construction, he said.

He said people who claimed there were irregularities in collecting signatures from the local community — a requirement to secure a construction permit for a house of worship — are welcome to report them to the police.

Rachmat, who recently received an award from the Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) for his firm stance in ensuring religious freedom in Bekasi, said according to a Religious Affairs Ministry regulation a "house of worship is a public need." "Then it's the job of the local government to help build it. Everyone should be able to exercise their right [to worship]," he added.

"No one can force or frighten me. I only follow the law," the mayor said.

The church is located north of Bekasi and has been the target of protests as some in the local community have accused the developer of obtaining the building permit in June 2015 using fake identity cards.

A building permit for houses of worship in Indonesia requires local community approval. The developer must collect signatures of residents living in the surrounding area and copies of their ID cards, or KTP.

"This is going to be a very big church. It could rise up to three floors. This really hurts the Muslim community. Why would a minority group build such a big church?" Iman Faturohman, an MSUIB coordinator said on Friday.

"How come I never heard any complaint from the local Muslim community? Did they really agree to the Santa Clara Church construction? Something doesn't seem right," he said.

Even though Indonesia officially recognizes six religions, sometimes believers of religions other than Islam find it difficult to build their house of worship. Plans to build churches are often rejected as Christians are seen as a threat by hardline Muslim groups.

These hardline groups are a minority in Muslim-majority Indonesia. Most Muslims in the country adhere to the official state philosophy of Pancasila, or the five tenets, which promote unity in diversity and religious tolerance.