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Islamic extremists attack church in Indonesia; pastor jailed

Country/Region: Indonesia, South and East Asia

A pastor in Indonesia has been jailed after a gang of Islamic extremists attacked him and his church during a service.

A map showing the location of Indonesia

Around 50 members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) descended on the Pentecostal church in Mekargalih village, Sumedang, West Java, on 27 January. CCTV footage showed them scaling the gates before vandalising the building and physically assaulting the minister, Bernhard Maukar; at one point they strangled him with his own necktie.

The aggressors accused the church of operating without a valid permit.

Bernhard was arrested two days later for continuing to hold services without a valid permit. He could not pay the fine of 25 million Indonesia Rupiah (US$2,600; £1,700) so was jailed for three months.

His wife Corry also now faces arrest for defying an order to stop holding church services.

The church, which has been running for 26 years, has made repeated attempts, at significant financial cost, to obtain the required permit but has been obstructed by the local authorities. Arief Saefulloh, the village chief responsible for the approval of permits, claims to have lost the paperwork. He said:

This is not a church, this is a house that is being used as a church.

Corry said that the incident at the end of January was the third violent attack against the church by the FPI in the last two years. She said that the latest incident had traumatised the 400-strong congregation, and many were now too afraid to attend services.   

The Mekargalih church joins a growing list of Indonesian churches that are facing opposition both from Islamic extremists and from the authorities. The FPI is particularly aggressive; Islamists regularly pressurise local authorities to refuse church permits, and the authorities often give in to their demands. Attacks against churches frequently go unpunished.

It is extremely difficult for a church to obtain a permit, as it requires support from at least 60 local people. They too are often intimidated by the FPI.

Churches in West Java are facing particularly strong opposition. GKI Yasmin Church in Bogor and Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi have suffered years of harassment, violence and bureaucratic obstacles.   

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