DUBLIN (Compass Direct News) – Leaders of a church in West Java, Indonesia, demanded justice from police after a fifth attack from Muslim protesters left at least a dozen people injured Sunday.
As some 20 members of the Batak Christian Protestant Filadelfia Church (HKBP Filadelfia) in Bekasi gathered for Sunday worship on a church-owned plot of land in Ciketing, at least 300 members of the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) broke through a police barricade and ordered them to leave, Theophilus Bela, president of the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum, told Compass. When the church members refused, the protesters assaulted the group with sticks, stones or their bare hands.
A report in The Jakarta Post reported that as many as 700 protesters took part in the attack on the congregation, which numbers 1,500 in total. A video clip of the attack shown on local broadcasting network Metro Treve confirmed only that a large and physically aggressive mob was present at the site.
Indra Listiantara, a researcher with the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said local residents identified the attackers as members of the FPI who had already attacked the church on previous occasions, including Bekasi FPI leader Murhali Barda, according to The Jakarta Globe.
When church members decided to leave, the mob “hunted us down and hit us,” church leader Hendrik Siagian told local news magazine Tempo.
Those injured included church member Franky Taumbunan, 26, who was kicked several times while he attempted to protect his elderly father. Berliana Sinaga, 22, suffered bruising after several men hit her in the head and face, the Post reported.
Several church members required medical attention, Bela confirmed.
Police chief Iman Sugianto, however, said he blamed the church members as he had warned them not to hold services in the area because they were disturbing the residents, according to the Post.
The church has filed charges against the FUI and FPI for assault and defiling a religion, the Globe reported Sunday. The Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak also demanded that the Bekasi administration offer the church an alternative venue.
Church members only resorted to worshiping on the plot of land in Ciketing after officials sealed a house used for worship in the Pondok Timur housing complex in Jejalen Jaya sub-district, Bekasi, Bela said.
The church purchased a plot of land in Ciketing in 1998 and began to construct a church there after gathering consent from 200 local residents and local officials; a 500-strong mob, however, burned down the partially-completed building in November 2000, he said.
In June 2007, the church purchased a house in the Pondok Timur housing estate for use as a temporary place of worship while they submitted a formal application to construct a church building in Ciketing. The application, however, remained unanswered for more than a year, while radicals stepped up their protests against the use of the house in Pondok Timur.
In October 2009, the church secured permission from the chief of Jejalen Jaya sub-district to hold services on the plot of land in Ciketing. The group then built a small structure there to store items such as tables and chairs.
Following protests in Ciketing, local authorities sent an official letter to the church rejecting their building application, Bela said. When church members continued to meet at the house in Pondok Timur, authorities also sealed that building in June.
Following an appeal from church members, Bekasi Mayor Mochtar Mohammad then reportedly promised to let the group meet in public areas and agreed to send police to safeguard church activities.
But Christians and Muslims alike have questioned the sincerity of such promises. Sunday’s attack came just one day after Jakarta Gov. Fauzi Bowo and Jakarta Police Chief Timur Pradopo attended the 12th anniversary celebrations of the Muslim extremist FPI. On Friday (Aug. 6), an FPI leader also visited Jakarta police headquarters to offer the Front’s assistance in enforcing religious bylaws during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Post reported Monday.
Following weekend attacks on the Bekasi church and on a congregation of the Ahmaddiyah, a Muslim sect, moderate Muslims flooded social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook with criticism of the FPI, demanding that the government take action to prevent further violence.
In an effort to resolve the issue, church members plan to hold their next Sunday service in front of the State Palace, said Judianto Simanjuntak, one of several church legal advisors, the Post reported Monday.