By Ryan Dagur
About 200 Protestants from the Batak Society Christian Church (HKBP) Philadelphia in West Java were attacked by Muslims as they gathered to attend a Christmas Eve service on Monday.
Church members, who are involved in a dispute with local officials after being denied a permit to build a place of worship in Bekasi district, had gathered for the service on land where they hope to build their church.
“Hundreds of Muslims threw rotten eggs, dung and plastic bags full of urine at us,” Reverend Palti Panjaitan, a leader of the Protestants, told ucanews.com yesterday.
He said the congregation was forced to flee and hold its service in the compound of a police station.
HKBP Philadelphia was denied permission to build a church in the district after submitting an application in 2007.
In December 2009, district authorities also banned the congregation from worshipping at the proposed site, but in July last year the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, saying they were eligible for a permit.
The permit has still to be issued.
Congregation members and activists who tried attending the service later criticized police for not doing anything to prevent the attack.
“They stood by and did nothing,” Panjaitan said.
Maruli Tua Rajagukguk from the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute said he found the situation difficult to understand.
“Police personnel seemed unconcerned that the congregation was attacked so arbitrarily,” he said.
The country’s Religious Affairs Minister, Suryadharma Ali, however criticized HKBP Philadelphia for trying to hold the service, saying the congregation should wait for the building permit to be issued by local authorities.
“The permit hasn’t been issued yet, so wait for it. Don’t create disturbances which can lead to misunderstandings,” he said.
A similar incident also occurred in May when the Protestants tried to celebrate Ascension Day.