Indonesian authorities in Bogor, West Java, have banned three churches from holding religious activities. According to UCANews the Methodist Church Indonesia, Huria Batak Protestant Church and a house used by Catholics for catechism classes were ordered to close their doors. Local authorities said they could not guarantee the safety of the communities.
According to the rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, West Java has the highest incidence of religious intolerance, with 41 cases reported last year.
Reverend Abdi Saragih of the Methodist Church in Bogor, 60km south of the capital Jakarta, says that over the years his church has been facing intimidation from government as well as radical Muslim groups.
This is not an unfamiliar story. Last year the brand new Santa Clara Church in Bekasi was sealed off by an Islamist group, demanding that its permit would be annulled. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) started an appeal on the church’s behalf, calling for the government to “revise the law on the establishment of worship places without any discrimination among the various religions and beliefs that exist in Indonesia”.
That this is a contentious issue became clear earlier this month. After having been closed down for seven years, another church in Bogor was told that it could reopen its doors if it also allowed a mosque on its premises. Over the years the GKI Yasmin Church held meetings in different places but resorted recently to holding open-air services outside the Presidential palace in Jakarta.
The announcement coincides with the visit of the Saudi Head of State, the first in 47 years, earlier this month. King Salman met President Joko Widodo for talks at the presidential palace in Bogor.
The king was also greeted by Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, Jakarta’s Christian governor, who is on trial for allegedly insulting the Quran. Purnama has denied wrongdoing but his blasphemy trial has inflamed religious tensions.
The Indonesian Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung expressed his hope that Saudi Arabia would promote moderate Islam, especially since the Gulf Kingdom leads a Muslim-majority states’ alliance against ISIL.
However, the visit by the Saudi King and his entourage raises concerns further that Indonesian Islam is beginning to shed its historic reputation for tolerance and moderation. This will not be the first time that economic and geo-political concerns get mixed up with religion. Indonesia is the world’s largest country with a Muslim majority. However, there are parallels with the situation in the Horn of Africa where a toxic relationship between faith and money has been playing itself out in the last couple of years.
As Al-Jazeera reports, radicalisation in Indonesia remains limited, but the country’s authorities have grown concerned about the ISIL’s forays into the region after a January 2016 attack in Jakarta. Days before King Salman’s arrival in the country, another ISIL-linked attacker belonging to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a local terror group, set off a small bomb in Bandung.
In this context, anti-Wahhabi moderate Sunni Islamic Indonesian groups have long complained about Saudi-financed efforts in Indonesia to spread Salafi-Wahhabi, thought as a source of the country’s increasingly perceptible rise in hardline Islam.