A Muslim demonstration outside Jakarta, Indonesia on Saturday, September 16, has temporarily disrupted the worship services of the Indonesia Bethel Church (Gereja Bethel Indonesia, or GBI), forcing them to move their gatherings online, according to sources.
The incident occurred in Depok, just south of Jakarta, where the church had recently started using a three-story building for worship.
The trouble began on September 10 when the GBI church, under police protection, commenced services at their new location after their previous lease had expired. However, on the morning of September 16, a group of approximately 50 individuals wearing turbans and religious attire gathered around the church building at 7 a.m. Witnesses reported that they shouted and banged on the perimeter fence gate but dispersed after about 30 to 45 minutes. Fortunately, there were no church members present in the building at that time.
Arif Syamsul, a member of the GBI church, stated, “At 7 a.m., more than about 50 people wearing turbans and other religious attire gathered around the chapel. They came to our chapel, and while shouting, they banged it [the perimeter fence gate] and then dispersed.”
The local authorities, including the Depok police, a district military commander, staff members from the Institute of Civil Empowerment (Lembaga Pemberdayaan Masyarakat), and the neighborhood head, intervened to prevent any damage to the building during the incident.
Following the disruption, the police facilitated an agreement between the GBI church and the Muslim community in the area. This agreement stipulated that worship services would move online for a duration of two weeks while the necessary permits were processed. Depok Metropolitan Police Chief Ahmad Fuady explained, “The result of the agreement is that temporary worship will take place online for two weeks. Why two weeks? Because documents will be processed for two weeks. After the permit is issued, they can then carry out offline worship.”
Normally, renting a building for worship does not require a permit, as per Arif Syamsul, who emphasized that they usually rent shop-houses without obtaining permits. The church had already secured permission from the neighborhood head (Rukun Tetangga), the citizens head (Rukung Warga), and the sub-district head.
However, the Institute of Civil Empowerment insisted that church leaders obtain approval from area residents, despite the church’s prior approvals from 80 residents, causing a dispute.
Rights advocates argue that government officials should ensure religious freedom and security for religious minorities. Andreas A. Yewangoe, a member of the Presidential Working Unit for the Development of Pancasila Ideology, stressed the importance of the state’s presence for law enforcement to prevent recurrent incidents.
Hendrik Tangke Allo, deputy chairman of the Depok People Representative, visited the church site and emphasized the need for the government to provide security and comfort for all religious groups to practice their faith freely. He expressed regret that the congregation had been forced to move their worship activities online temporarily.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute, which advocates for democracy and human rights, particularly religious freedom in Indonesia, highlighted the challenges faced by religious minorities who often feel uncertain about their place in the nation.
Indonesia currently ranks 33rd on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of countries where it is most challenging to be a Christian. The nation has seen a rise in conservative Islamic influence, putting churches engaged in evangelism at risk of being targeted by extremist groups. In some regions, non-traditional churches struggle to obtain permits for their buildings, with authorities frequently neglecting their paperwork.