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Churches extorted in Bandung for permits

by June 13, 2016 General

In another show of intolerance toward minority faiths in Indonesia, mass organizations have extorted churches in Bandung, West Java, in the process of attaining building permits.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) recently disclosed the practice to the public. This disclosure has been followed by anonymous reports to the media due to threats made by the mass organizations.

The Jakarta Post recently found the extortion practice continued and is usually experienced by churches that are applying for building permits.

“They come and say you can safely worship as long as you pay a security fee,” a source told the Post.

Most churches said they gave the money so that they could continue to worship.

A church leader claimed his church had spent up to Rp 70 million (US$5,244) to open the seal placed on it by a mass organization in order to freely worship.

He also said it was difficult to prove the existence of this blackmail due to a lack of documentation or receipts. The parties receiving the money are unwilling to sign any documents proving that they have engaged in extortion.

“They only give a guarantee letter saying the church will not be disturbed during worship. This is an open secret,” added the source.

Earlier, Komnas HAM head Imdadun Rahmat said the discovery of the extortion came about after his agency met with church leaders in Singapore some time ago. During the meeting, Imdadun received information on the extortion in the form of security funds worth up to hundreds of millions of rupiah.

Bandung Legal Aid Institute director Arip Yogiawan has asked Komnas HAM to resolve the extortion of churches in Bandung.

“Another priority is to protect the complainants,” Arip said.

Protection for complainants, added Arip, was important because they were the ones who were the victims of the extortion. “They are the victims and we mustn’t let them be victimized again. Komnas HAM must complete the investigation,” said Arip.

Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil held a meeting with church representatives following the disclosure by Komnas HAM. The meeting took place on June 9 at Bandung City Hall.

Ridwan denied the reports. According to him, no such transactions occurred because the church licensing process had its own procedure at the Bandung Licensing Integrated Service Agency.

“Even if there are efforts to exploit the situation, its just improvization by individuals from mass organizations in the field,” said Ridwan.

One such mass organization, the West Java chapter of the Indonesian Islamic Preaching Council (DDII), also denied the allegations.

DDII West Java secretary Nur Roin Balad claimed that many religious mass organizations were offended by the Komnas HAM statement.

He said DDII felt obligated to demand an explanation from those who had spread the allegations. He said the organization was ready to clarify the case.

“Islam is against thuggery. We will report brothers who spread hostility, slander and aggravation. Apologize to Muslims. The slanderous statement must be retracted,” Roin said at the Jati Sari subdistrict administrative office in Buah Batu district, Bandung, while meeting with church members in the eastern part of the city.