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Indonesia police chief accused of justifying attack on church

Publication Date : 05-06-2014

 

Rightist activists in Indonesia have slammed National Police chief Gen. Sutarman for focusing more on the issue of the church's operating permit, rather than on the violent attack on a Pentecostal church in Sleman, Yogyakarta on Sunday.

Sutarman, while condemning the actions of the local residents and Muslim groups who barraged the church with stones shattering its windows, has emphasised the church was in violation of the law as it had not obtained a permit from the local government to operate as a place of worship.

“Private residences cannot routinely be used for Friday prayers [for Muslims] or prayer meetings [for Christians],” he said at his office in Jakarta on Wednesday.

He did say Muslims could hold monthly Koran recitals and other religious-related meetings in private homes, but that such meetings “should be reported to the police, so that we can provide protection”.

The Pentecostal church has reportedly been run by Rev. Nico Lomboan since the 1990s. According to Sleman Deputy Regent Yuni Satia Rahayu, the regency had denied it a building permit to operate as a church because its board had faked the signatures of local residents to fulfill the permit requirements.

Although the Sleman administration sealed the building in 2012, the church was recently used. This prompted local residents and some Muslim groups to hurl stones at the church on Sunday.

Responding to Sutarman’s remarks, Setara Institute chairman Hendardi said the police chief should prioritise in the investigation the attack on the church over its legal status.

“Operating a place of worship without a permit is an administrative violation. But the most problematic thing in the case is that some people took the law into their own hands by attacking the church. The police have a responsibility to prevent that and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” he said over the phone on Wednesday.

The police have so far named only one suspect in the case.

The attack on the church was the second case of sectarian violence in Yogyakarta in the last week. On May 30, at least 15 local residents attacked a group of Catholics praying at a house in Ngaglik, Sleman.

Hendardi also said that minority groups often faced obstacles in obtaining permits to operate a place of worship.

“To get the permit, they must get approval from local residents living around the place of worship. In some many cases, this creates problems,” he said.

Ahmad Suaedy from the Wahid Institute concurred with Hendardi. “[Sutarman’s statement] seems to justify the violent attack [...] If Rev. Nico is violating the law, he may be brought to justice. By the same token, the perpetrators of the attack must also be brought to trial,” Suaedy said.

In responding to increasing sectarian violence in Yogyakarta, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has sent a letter urging Sutarman to solve the two cases and to evaluate the performance of the Yogyakarta Police.

Sutarman, commenting on the letter, said that the police had acted firmly to prevent and handle sectarian conflicts.

Komnas HAM commissioner Siti Noor Laila rebuffed Sutarman’s claim, saying that the police had failed to close many sectarian violence cases, including the attack at the Kemah Injil Indonesia (GKII) church in Gunungkidul regency on March 30.

“If the police have acted firmly, they should have submitted the dossiers of those cases to the prosecutor’s office,” she said.

 

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