Local officials in South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia, have announced their decision to revoke permission for the construction of a Christian school in the town of Parepare due to mounting pressure from Islamic protests.
The Gamaliel Christian School Foundation had previously been granted permission to build the school, having met all the necessary requirements.
However, following a demonstration on October 6, which included participation from a banned Islamic extremist group, the local representative council has vowed to withdraw their permission.
The demonstration on October 6 saw members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), an extremist group banned since December 2020, march through the city alongside hundreds of area residents, Muslim leaders, and members of the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) and the Soreang Society Alliance. They gathered at the office of the district representative council, where they demanded the revocation of the building permit for the Christian school.
The protest resulted in the Parepare representative council promising to withdraw the permits for the Christian school, citing concerns about potential friction in the community. In Indonesia, such promises from officials to Islamic groups are often considered as official decisions, but as of now, no formal letter of revocation has been issued.
A widely viewed online video shows protestors unfurling banners reading, “Rejecting the Construction of the Gamaliel Soreang Christian School” and chanting slogans such as “Refuse the permit, revoke the permit.” Some speakers called on the government to take a similar stance.
One orator declared, “We are the most tolerant people – Muslims need no education on tolerance. We live in a neighborhood with non-Muslims and provide food to each other; we never disturb others’ worship, but it is intolerance if you build a Christian school in a majority Muslim community.”
At the Parepare city representative council office, protestors were met by the council’s chairman, two deputies, and a council member known only as Kamaluddin. Kamaludin explained the residents’ objections, stating that most of the people in the area were Muslims and believed the permission was not clear. The council expressed their intent to avoid community conflicts.
Opposition to the school’s construction began when hundreds of residents gathered at the Al Amin Mosque on September 30 to sign a statement opposing the project.
The Gamaliel Christian School had initially received legal authorization for its construction, as reported by bnn.com. Sinta, the deputy chairman of the Gamaliel Christian Education Foundation, confirmed that her institution had obtained all the necessary permits and had followed relevant regulations, receiving approval from authorities.
In response to the protests and the announced revocation of the building permit, Sinta stressed that the foundation would not proceed with construction without proper legal permission from the government. She stated that all necessary permits had been obtained before commencing construction and that the process was not as problematic as some residents claimed.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute, an organization advocating democracy and human rights in Indonesia, especially religious freedom, expressed concerns about the situation. He described it as “a clear sign of state subordination to the will of intolerant groups,” highlighting the influence of local politics and electoral interests that make public officials accommodate the demands of intolerant groups, often ignoring constitutional principles.
Indonesia is ranked 33rd on the 2023 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, according to the Christian support organization Open Doors. The country has seen a shift toward a more conservative Islamic character, making churches involved in evangelistic outreach vulnerable to targeting by Islamic extremist groups, as noted in the World Watch List report.