Jakarta. Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has once again come to the defense of a religious minority congregation targeted by Islamic hard-liners, this time siding with a church threatened with demolition after three decades of serving its parishioners.
Basuki on Sunday intervened to stop the demolition of the Indonesian Protestant Christian (GKPI) church in Jatinegara subdistrict, East Jakarta, which had been ordered by the East Jakarta mayor’s office at the behest of the local chapter of the Interfaith Communication Forum (FKUB) – comprising hard-line Islamic groups that tend to be against the presence of churches in their communities.
The mayor’s office had threatened to send in public order officers to demolish the church, and even stationed police personnel and soldiers outside the building.
The office said that the church, built in the 1980s, did not have a building permit, and gave the congregation the option to tear down the structure themselves on Sunday.
Basuki, though, stepped in, saying the demolition order was based on a frivolous technicality that was not enforced for countless of other houses of worship throughout the capital, most of them mosques.
He acknowledged that the church leaders had never obtained a building permit, or IMB, when construction of the church first began, and that the matter only came to the East Jakarta authorities’ attention when the congregation applied for a permit in 2013 to carry out renovations.
Basuki said his administration would provide some leeway for churches and other houses of worship to get their paperwork in order – if they had a long and established presence in their community. He warned that the alternative, to throw the book at them, would only serve to rupture the capital’s social and religious cohesion.
“We must not allow this [permit] issue to be exploited by intolerant groups,” the governor said on Sunday at a gathering of interfaith community leaders.
“If we’re talking about houses of worship that have been around for a long time, I’ll stand up for them.”
He noted that dozens of mosques were also built in violation of zoning regulations, but there was no effort made to tear them down.
“There are lots of mosques built within housing estates where you’re not supposed to have a house of worship,” he said.
“There’s also an Islamic foundation whose mosque according to the ministry [of religious affairs] must be 2,500 square meters, but is only 300. Do I let them be? Yes, because they’ve been there more than a dozen years. You have to be reasonable.”
The governor’s intervention comes less than a fortnight after he took a stand for a beleaguered community of Ahmadiyah Muslims who had for four decades worshiped at the home of one of its members in Tebet, South Jakarta.
Those hostile to the group, primarily the notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a rent-a-mob with religious pretensions, have rather ridiculously taken offense at the fact that the Ahmadis, who have been living and praying in the Bukit Duri neighborhood of Tebet since the 1970s, have consistently declined to worship at a nearby mosque.
The protesters claim this refusal harms their own identity as Muslims, and demand that the Ahmadis be evicted on the grounds that they are violating zoning regulations by holding prayer gatherings in a residential property.
Basuki, though, said his administration would grant an exemption from the regulation to all Ahmadiyah communities in the city who wished to worship at members’ homes instead of at mosques, where their slightly different prayer rituals often mark them out for persecution by their Sunni Muslim peers.
“We’ll let them get around the zoning restrictions so that their houses may be used as places of worship,” he said on July 15.
The governor is no stranger to religious intolerance, having come under attack during the 2012 gubernatorial election because of his own Christian faith.