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Update: Indonesian Official Who Halted Church Service Granted Reduced Charges

Authorities have reduced a blasphemy charge to one of mere “intrusion” for an official on western Indonesia’s Sumatra Island who broke up a worship service, sources said. 

Church leaders in Indonesia said such leniency would never be granted to a Christian who broke up mosque prayers and appealed for equal treatment under Indonesian law.

Wawan Kurniawan, head of the Rukun Tetangga area of Rajabasa Jaya village, on Feb. 19 stopped the worship service of the Tabernacle of David Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Kemah Daud, or GKKD), saying it lacked a permit, sources said. The village is located in the southeast corner of Sumatra in Bandar Lampung Regency, Lampung Province.

The Lampung High Prosecutor’s Office stated that instead of charging him with violating the blasphemy law, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine, Wawan would be charged only with intruding into the church compound without permission, which carries a punishment of less than a year in prison and a US$30 fine, according to Kompas.com.

The prosecutor’s office said the due process of law would be carried out in the near future, according to Kompas.com, though many Christians doubt authorities would follow through due to the influence of Muslim extremist groups.

Charges may have been reduced in part because Wawan reached a settlement with the GKKD church on Feb. 23, said the Rev. Henrek Lokra, executive secretary of justice and peace bureau of the Communion of Christian Churches (Persatuan Gereja Indonesia or PGI). Wawan, Bandar Lampung Sub-district officials and other local authorities initiated the settlement.

The agreement called for Wawan to publicly ask the GKKD congregation for forgiveness and for both parties to forego legal action against each other, leaving any prosecution to the government, which Christians believe is biased in favor of Islamists.

The agreement also called for the GKKD congregation to accept Wawan’s apology and granted the church a temporary permit to continue using its building for worship. 

In spite of the settlement, the PGI’s Pastor Lokra said problems remain.

“The government in general and the legal authorities in particular should maintain people’s trust, the trust among the citizens, that their voice is heard and the problem solved accordingly,” he told Morning Star News in a text message.

Lukas Sutrisno, a church planter in Magelang, Central Java, said authorities should consistently enforce the law.

“The whole process itself is incomprehensible – dismissing [breaking up] the Sunday service is a crime which should be punished,” Sutrisno told Morning Star News. “It’s hard to imagine such a case happening to the majority religion – I mean, what would happen if Christians dismissed Muslim prayers?”

Such disruption of church services could reoccur unless the government applies consistent enforcement policies, he said.

“The law authorities, I think, should treat the citizens equally before the law,” Sutrisno said.

Lampung Police spokesman Zahwani Pandra Arsyad said that Wawan had been briefly arrested in February shortly after the disruption, and that investigators in March concluded that he had “fulfilled the elements to be named a suspect” under blasphemy laws, Kompas.com reported on March 16…continue reading

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