Two churches in Indonesia survive arson attacks

Two churches in Indonesia survive arson attacks
Catholic church in Malang in eastern Java island.

In the early morning of Monday, local residents in Bantul, Yogyakarta, and Purworejo, Central Java, managed to foil attempts by unidentified persons to burn down two churches in the two regencies.

Residents living around the Indonesian Baptist Church located in Saman hamlet, Bangunharjo sub-district, Sewon district, Bantul, worked together to save the church after it was set on fire by three unidentified persons.

"The incident took place at around 2:45 a.m. on Monday," the church's reverend Joni Teguh Haryadi told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Joni said that three unidentified persons, according to some witnesses, lit a used tire and placed it at the church's front door.

"Fortunately, local residents immediately came to extinguish the fire, otherwise the church would have been gutted by fire," he said.

On Tuesday, several police personnel were seen securing the front part of the church, which had been blackened by the burning tire. The main hall of the church, meanwhile, was filled with water used to douse the fire.

The arson attack took place only several days after dozens of members of the Yogyakarta Islamic Jihad Front (FJI) came to the church to inquire about the church's construction permit.

Last Tuesday, which was also the 27th day of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadhan, FJI members said that they would shut down the church over a claim that the church lacked a proper building permit from the Bantul regency administration.

The Bantul police, however, managed to prevent the group from forcibly shutting down the church after exchanging heated arguments with members of the group.

Local authorities, however, have so far declined to comment on the incident. Sewon Police chief Comr. Heru Setiawan, for example, did not reply to text messages and telephone calls from the Post. Bantul Regent Sri Surya Widati, meanwhile, could not be reached for comment.

Heru, who was present when FJI members attempted to close down the church last week, said earlier that the police would continue to secure the church and conduct patrols in Saman.

Earlier on July 5, representatives from the Yogyakarta Islamic Congregation Forum (FUI) also met with Muslim residents in Saman hamlet and asked them to stage protests against the establishment of the church.

Saman hamlet chief Kuat Slamet, meanwhile, said that local residents had no objection to the presence of the 75 square-meter church, which has been operating in the hamlet for 20 years.

At least five churches, including the one in Saman, and a religious tourist site in Yogyakarta are on the cusp of being forced into closure this year following pressure from local Muslim groups, according to a recent report from NGO Friends of Freedom of Religion and Association (Sobat KBB).

Separately, in Purworejo regency, unidentified persons on Monday set fire to the front door of the Javanese Christian Church (GKJ) in Tlepok, Tlepok Wetan sub-district, Grabag district. The incident was discovered by church reverend Ibnu Prabowo.

"At around 5:30 a.m., after morning exercises, we smelled gasoline and saw the front door of the church scorched," Ibnu said on Tuesday, as quoted by Antara news agency.

Ibnu, with several church sextons, then inspected other parts of the church. They later found that the church's west entrance had been singed. Ibnu also found a threatening letter placed at the front of the church.

Purworejo Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Theresia Arsida Septiana said that the police had questioned several witnesses in the case. Theresia also said that the police had collected evidence from the crime scene, including a piece of paper containing a message and seven matchsticks.

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