Christians pray in shuttered Indonesian church monitored by police, agree to discuss tensions
JAKARTA, Indonesia – JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Dozens of Christians held prayers inside their boarded-up church near Indonesia's capital Sunday, saying they had as much right as anyone to worship in the world's most populous Muslim country.
They were surrounded by hundreds of police and unarmed security guards.
Using bullhorns, local officials reminded members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church they were banned from the site following an attack on two church leaders by suspected Islamic hard-liners.
"We just want to carry out our obligations as Christians, but authorities are treating us like terrorists," said Advent Tambunan, a member of the congregation in the industrial city of Bekasi.
"There's no justice for us in this country."
Indonesia, a secular country of 237 million people, has more Muslims than any other in the world. Though the country has a long history of religious tolerance, a small extremist fringe has become more vocal — and violent — in recent years.
Ten people were arrested after last week's attacks, which left one churchgoer hospitalized with a stab wound. Among them was the local leader of the hard-line Islamic Defender's Front, which has led calls for the Christians to leave.
In recent months, the hard-liners have thrown shoes and water bottles at the church members, interrupted sermons with chants of "Infidels!" and dumped piles of feces on the land.
Local officials had seven empty buses on standby outside the Batak Christian's shuttered church Sunday, ready to transport them to an alternate site of worship provided by the government.
But members of the congregation, numbering about 100, refused to budge.
After lengthy negotiations, they were allowed to carry out Sunday services, with the agreement that they would talk later this week about ways to help defuse religious tensions in the neighborhood.