Christians plan to defy police, Muslim warnings against praying at closed church in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A group of Christian worshippers said they would defy police and the threat of attack to hold Sunday prayers outside their now-boarded-up church near Indonesia's capital.

Religious tensions that had been growing for months in the industrial city of Bekasi came to a head last week when unidentified assailants stabbed a member of the Batak Christian Church in the stomach and hit its preacher on the head with a wooden plank. Neither injury was life-threatening.

Police arrested 10 suspects including the local leader of the hard-line Islamic Defender's Front, which has for months warned the Christians against holding prayers in the staunchly Muslim neighborhood.

The Islamic Defender's Front pressured local authorities early this year to shutter the Batak church, arguing the permit was granted without the required approval of residents.

But dozens of church members have gathered in the vacant lot in front of the church each Sunday for months.

Police said Saturday that to prevent more violence they would deploy 600 officers to block services on Sunday.

Bekasi Police Chief Col. Imam Sugianto warned them against returning Sunday, saying "if they don't listen, we will take them ourselves to a temporary place for worship offered by the government."

Travis Siagian, a member of the congregation, called it unfair to block their services.

"We're going back — not because we want to provoke anyone. We just want to enjoy the same rights to worship as any other religion in this country," Siagian said.

Indonesia, a secular country of 237 million people, has more Muslims than any other in the world. Though it has a long history of religious tolerance, a small extremist fringe has become more vocal — and violent — in recent years.